Instagram darlings: Humans of Singapore

Instagram darlings: Humans of Singapore
A post by Mr Shitij Nigam and Ms Arti Batavia shows an elderly woman with the caption: “This is my latest shirt, very fashionable! Aunty look good, right or not?”
PHOTO: Humans of Singapore

Inspired by the wildly successful street photography project, Humans of New York, Singapore's version on Instagram, Humans of Singapore, now boasts more than 12,000 followers and 78,000 Facebook fans.

The original was started by American photographer Brandon Stanton as a blog back in 2010. Its street portraits of New Yorkers, and their raw and resonating stories, took social media by storm.

Management consultant Shitij Nigam, 24, who is single, was taken by Stanton's artistic eye for storytelling and surprised by how much he could relate to the stories of complete strangers on another continent.

He decided to give the project a shot in 2013. "I wanted to celebrate the trials and triumphs of ordinary people and started a Facebook page, Humans of Singapore."

But convincing strangers to be photographed and open up about their lives was tough and he managed, at most, one post a week.

He initially featured his friends to generate content. He then began speaking to strangers, showing them the Facebook account to explain the project if they seemed uncertain. Last year, he started the humansofsingapore Instagram account. To date, it has 444 posts.

Last November, he got a friend, Ms Arti Batavia, 24, to help run the site. They work together to post a photo a day by asking strangers questions such as their biggest regret or their happiest moment.

Their busy work schedules mean they often spend their weekends seeking out and photographing strangers. But both say they are happy to do so.

Ms Batavia, who is single and works as a strategy planner in advertising, says: "There is healthy debate in the comments on our posts."

An interview with a single mother juggling three jobs was shared by thousands and many offered help.

Other viral posts include her heartwarming experience with a deaf ice cream uncle in Aljunied, who thanked her repeatedly with a smile.

Mr Nigam says: "What is amazing is the outpouring of support for people who are not outwardly asking for help. Seeing how eager people want to help a total stranger makes the project very worthwhile."

The project aims to challenge stereotypes. He says: "We hope these pictures and captions help people realise they shouldn't be so quick to judge others at face value. Everyone is fighting his own battles."

They have received offers to collaborate with government agencies, but they say they prefer to curate the content themselves.

"We want the people featured to be from every facet of society. We try to keep the process organic as we don't want to dilute the message," says Ms Batavia.

Mr Nigam adds: "Having a person share intimate details about his life is a very moving experience. People can really surprise you. It's taught me to give everyone the benefit of the doubt."

This article was first published on June 21, 2015.
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