Through the simple format of portrait and caption, a new Instagram account @HumansofGambier highlights the stories of people who live and work in Gambier.
Jacqueline McKeown ’23 created the account in October to inform her audience of the stories behind those faces and contribute to the community atmosphere often attributed to Kenyon. “[We say] the community is so close, but I didn’t really feel that way. And I thought this could be something that could bring the community closer,” she explained.
@HumansofGambier takes after the popular Humans of New York project created by photographer Brandon Stanton in 2010. Though they share a similar mission — to remind their viewers of the humanity behind every face — the meaning changes in Gambier’s small-town context, where viewers are much more likely to recognize the faces of people being interviewed.
Part of McKeown’s inspiration for the account arose from her nightly stops at the Bookstore. “I know probably every person at the register’s face. I don’t know their names; I don’t know anything about them,” she said. “There’s someone that’s checking me out with food every single night of my experience at Kenyon, and I’ve never gotten to know them any deeper than that.”
After months of stewing on the idea, McKeown found the perfect opportunity to start: a psychology project that required her to interview a stranger. Her first subject was Robin Nordmoe, a Craft Center pottery instructor and Kenyon Bookstore employee. Nordmoe spoke on topics ranging from work-life balance to the story of how her marriage was sparked by Dungeons and Dragons games. The accompanying portrait depicts Nordmoe grinning and hugging her dog. The assignment became the account’s first post.
In her interviews, McKeown draws out personal stories that contribute to a deeper understanding of her subjects. Her questions are specific but ambitious: “Who is someone that’s impacted your life majorly?” and “What’s a dream that you had that you either achieved or didn’t achieve?” are two. McKeown then arranged Robin’s answers chronologically to give a sense of her life story. “I asked her all these questions, but they all kind of connected,” she explained.
McKeown has felt the impact of similar stories in her life. “When I read those things on Humans of New York, it changes the way I think about my life. It changes the way I interact with people,” she said. “I’m less selfish. And I want to spread some kindness across Kenyon.” She hopes Kenyon students will find the stories a welcome distraction from schoolwork, but also an opportunity for perspective, connection and deeper understanding of Gambier’s residents.
McKeown has only completed two features for the account, but she is excited for the page’s future. She is open to feedback and suggestions of interview subjects, including Kenyon students.