Smile Politely

Humans of Champaign-Urbana

By now you’re probably familiar with the Humans of New York art series, which captures — in all its disparate glory — the ecclectic mix of beauty and irreverence that can be found on the streets of NYC. This series is indeed inspiring, and its influence has finally reached Champaign-Urbana and a UI student named Jason Yue.

Local students, parents, business owners… the people you see on the street every day. They all have stories.

I spoke with Yue recently, about his background and his project.

Here’s the story.


Smile Politely: Give us an idea of your backgroundwho you are, where you’re from, and how those details have shaped you as a person and lead you to where you currently are in life.

Jason Yue: I’m a junior in engineering at the University of Illinois from Naperville. The person I am today is shaped from the different people who have graced my life and my interactions with them. I have been blessed with a strong group of mentors, friends, and family who have all influenced me to this point. Most recently, I went through one of the lowest periods of my time where there were countless hours spent on self-reflection. Through this low point, I worked relentlessly on various projects to help cope with the pain. The low point gave me a greater appreciation for life and helped grow in me a curiosity for the world. When traveling on long bus rides this summer, I found myself having great conversations with the people sitting next to me, people I would have never talked to normally. I wanted to take that inspiration back to the C-U area and wanted to really get to know the community that is more than just a campus.

SP: How did HONY influence or inspire you?

Yue: The Humans of Champaign-Urbana project stemmed from my interactions with people that I have met in my day-to-day life. Originally, the project was going to be something along the lines of “People I’ve Met” and serve as a photographic reminder of people who’s stories have touched me. However, I found myself sharing these stories in my daily life and people being impacted by it.

HONY provided me the inspiration that this project had a possibility of connecting people to people. That really pushed me to give it a try and see where the road leads.

SP: Describe Humans of Champaign-Urbana. How is it similar to or different from HONY?

Yue: It’s similar to HONY in that I take photos and try to capture a story to share with an audience. That similarity is just a byproduct of the reason why I go out and explore. I go out and explore to feed my curiosity of people. I want to learn more about the world and the humans who live here.

When I leave my room and venture forth, there’s not a quota of pictures or a scripted path in mind. It is more of me placing that curious nature in the driving seat and seeing where it takes me.

I also normally do not start with asking for a photograph. I lead a normal conversation with people, asking questions and seeing where the discussion leads. All pictures and stories on the site are taken with permission from the people and am grateful to have met every one of them.

SP: Are you just doing this by yourself?

Yue: Sometimes, a friend will come with and take the pictures. Most of the time, it’s just me, my camera, and a curiosity for what’s around me.

SP: How has HOCU been working out so far?

Yue: The experience has been tremendous. The support for the project and the people I have met have made everything worthwhile. It’s given me an appreciation for people and helped me learn to not judge people based on our initial impressions. I’ve learned a large amount and look forward to going out and exploring our area each day.

SP: Have you had any particularly interesting interactions?

Yue: My favorite reaction is of a homeless man named Rick who described living in Champaign. This is his quote:

“I’ve had people all over the world talk to me, hand me a buck. I’ve lived in 14 States, but I always come back to Champaign. The people are so welcoming. Its a good, quiet, peaceful place. I have not found a better place.”

SP: What is your goal for the project?

Yue: I hope to foster communication and understanding between people. In layman’s terms, it would be excellent if this project just fostered one spontaneous conversation as a result. Another byproduct of the project would be to showcase how rich and diverse the CU area is as a community. There definitely is an abundance of unique people who live here.


You can find many more photos from the Humans of Champaign-Urbana, as well as their stories, on the HOCU facebook page.

All photos courtesy of Jason Yue and the HOCU facebook page.

More Articles