What is your definition of happiness?
The answer to such a probing question is not something a person would normally share with a stranger, much less agree to have it posted online next to one's photo.
But that's the whole point of Humans of Palo Alto, a photo blog launched by a group of Gunn High School students hoping to capture the unique, unseen details about the individuals who make up Palo Alto.
The idea is a spinoff of Humans of New York, a "photographic census" of New York City started in 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton. His goal was to shoot 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map, but the project instead morphed into an online platform for intimate snapshots of peoples' lives. Stanton also eventually turned his blog, with more than one million followers, into a New York Times bestselling book.
Stanton posts photos of people around the city a Catholic priest, a Mexican immigrant, a man walking his dogs, a couple reminiscing about the night they first met with candid, snippet responses to a question he asked them or a short caption.
Some are sad "I pretty much only read fantasy because I've had more than enough of reality," states one caption, under a photo of a man sitting on a sleeping bag on the sidewalk, reading a book and others, humorous.
"I hate fractions," a young boy with a skateboard declared.
The founders of Humans of Palo Alto are going for the same coverage and sensibility.
"The objective of our site is to express the uniqueness of individuals in the Palo Alto community, much like how they're doing in New York," said Gunn junior Calvin Wang, who started the website with friend and fellow Gunn junior Brendan Wong. "One person out of a whole city that's one out of thousands and thousands. It's really hard to be realized, to be seen."
In January, Wang and Wong enlisted Gunn senior Michael Chen as head photographer and set out on campus and around town to find people to interview. They originally posted their photos and quotes on a Facebook page but have also launched a Tumblr page for those without Facebook accounts.
One of the Palo Alto project's first "humans" candidly answered their probe about the definition of happiness.
"When you're at peace with yourself for who you are," said Justin Yoo, photographed sitting on Gunn's concrete entry sign. "But I guess in the end, it's really whatever you want it to be."
Other posts feature an employee at Amber Dhara, the downtown Palo Alto Indian restaurant, who's originally from Nepal; a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran who likes Taylor Swift; a shy 16-year-old who has had trouble making new friends since moving to Palo Alto; a dog who replies to "What is the meaning of life?" with a simple "Woof."
"It's that idea of sharing that little bit of unique information about you that will allow a complete random stranger to feel comfortable," Wang explained. "It's just that little bit of unique information that helps people understand you and make a connection."
Though Chen said he sees Humans of Palo Alto as "humorous and lighthearted," he also cited a less rosy quote from Karin Delgadillo, a campus supervisor at Gunn also known as "Mr. D."
Chen asked him: "What is something difficult that has made you stronger?"
"I grew up with a single mom, no dad!" Delgadillo responded. "Without a father figure, I learned to be self-reliant and self-dependent."
"A lot of people are stressed here at Gunn," Chen said. "We want people to understand that they're going to go through some hardships, but eventually there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
Since launching, Chen, Wang and Wong have also reached out to Palo Alto High School students to bring them on board.
"We don't want to over-represent Gunn High School," Wang said. "There's definitely more corners of Palo Alto that we're going to be expanding to, such as other high schools like Pinewood ... definitely Stanford. So we'll be expanding to those places as we progress."
Online Editor Elena Kadvany can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.