Gunn students launch 'Humans of Palo Alto'

Photo blog captures people via photos, candid quotes

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."

The Humans of Palo Alto page is on Facebook at and Tumblr at

Online Editor Elena Kadvany can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2014 at 12:18 pm

there once was a middle-class on the peninsula. are students humans in palo alto or in the bay area? I am Gunn Class of 1975. this makes it into the local news. will wonders ever cease?

Like this comment
Posted by HCB
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2014 at 10:57 am

ugh. hacktography.

Like this comment
Posted by M.D.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Congrats to the Gunn kids on their awesome blog!!!!

Keep up the good work. I am very proud of your efforts. Miss y'all a bunch!

But you are never far from my thoughts & prayers.


Like this comment
Posted by Skeptic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Is there any reason to require that these "unique, unseen details' be true, or are good intentions enough? For example, Al Mills is given this platform to tell us he "manned the US aircraft carrier". The US Navy had perhaps 20 operational aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War. Which one did he "man"? Do sailors describe their service that way? I've always heard them say they "served" or "sailed" on a ship, and then always mention the ship's name. Mr. Mills then tells us he served in both the "Vietnam Army and Navy". Leaving aside the odd phrasing for a Vietnam veteran to use, is this correct? Not impossible to have served in both branches during the war, but highly unusual.

So what is the purpose of this journalistic undertaking? Can it be even called journalism?

2 people like this
Posted by Gunn Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 22, 2014 at 1:42 am

@Skeptic Calm down yo. These students be doin da photography 4 fun. No need to get up all in their faces homie.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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