Stephanie Glaros may approach you on the street someday. She might want to take your picture and ask you some questions about your life, your hopes and dreams and what made you who you are. You might not be completely sure what’s happening, but maybe you’ll say yes anyway.

That part still shocks her.

Glaros runs Humans of Minneapolis, a blog inspired by Humans of New York. She interviews and photographs people she meets on the street and uploads their stories for the world to see on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. Her goal is to get potentially closed-off Minnesotans to open up and share something about their lives, challenges and dreams.

Easier said than done.

“People are reserved here and they don’t want attention, so it can be a bit of a challenge to draw people out,” said Glaros, a Minneapolis-based freelance photographer and graphic design instructor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. “I look at that as a challenge to get real and get outside of our shells and make a connection. That’s what it’s about for me. There’s something magical about connecting with a complete stranger.”

Humans of Minneapolis is not exactly like Humans of New York. Glaros’ version tells unique stories like Humans of New York does, but she focuses more on relatable stories that potentially home in on social justice issues. Glaros calls it “emotional storytelling with a social justice bent.”

She has a specific process for approaching potential subjects, a technique perfected through trial and error and lots of rejections by people who were busy or distracted. Some folks still say no, but now she knows what to look for.

“I approach people I feel like I’ll connect with,” Glaros said. “I have to be able to gain their trust.”

On a sunny day, Glaros ran through her mental checklist as she scanned sidewalks at the University of Minnesota, camera slung around her neck. Her bright blue eyes fixed on a young woman in a Minnesota sweatshirt and black hijab. Could she get the woman to trust her? Would she let her take her photo? Did she seem rushed or distracted? Could she make eye contact with her? She decided it was go time.

Tucking her short, curly blond hair behind her ear, Glaros walked up to the woman and smiled at her.

“Hi, my name is Stephanie,” she said. “I have a blog called Humans of Minneapolis, where I stop people on the street, ask them a few questions and take their pictures. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

When university student Fawzia Omar agreed, Glaros asked what she was proudest of, her favorite starter question. She followed up with a few background questions. Omar said she is majoring in global studies to learn more about human rights and justice and eventually aid her home country, Somalia.

Then Glaros took her picture: “Stand right there,” she requested. “I want you just as I found you, smoothie cup in hand and everything.”

The picture taken, she handed Omar a business card, thanked her and sent her on her way.

“I try to always leave on a positive note and create a situation when the person isn’t second-guessing what happened,” Glaros said. “I want it to be positive for them.”

Fascinated by photography

Glaros found her calling as a photographer at an early age. She grew up in Arden Hills, where her father was a dedicated hobbyist photographer who built a darkroom in their house. She posed for his photos as a child, and when she got her own camera in fifth grade, she realized that she had a natural eye for photography. She took the only two photography classes her high school offered.

“They were the only classes I ever cared about in high school,” she said, smiling. “I was more interested in following the Grateful Dead than school, to be honest.”

She graduated from the University of Montana with a major in women’s studies, which spurred her passion for social justice.

Photographing people happened by fate mixed with a passion for breaking down social barriers. She walked by the same strip clubs and saw the same women coming and going from work every day.

“It called into question some of my own assumptions, biases and stereotypes, and I felt very challenged by that,” she said. “I was seeing normal girls dressed in street clothes transforming themselves into something else. I had this burning desire to photograph these girls, but I was intimidated.”

Then she started noticing the people on her walk to work. Although the faces became familiar, they never spoke. The social barriers between them made her uncomfortable.

She knew what she had to do: She could use her camera as a way to break through the barriers.

She began asking strippers and people on her route if she could take their pictures. Then she brought the photos to a monthly photo salon organized by her mentor, Wing Young Huie.

“I’ll never forget,” Glaros said. “Wing leaned over and pointed at the picture and said, ‘Yes. This is what you should be doing.’ It was exactly what I wanted to do, but I was so scared to do it.”

With Huie’s encouragement, she began a “Girls Next Door” project, which became her first lengthy foray into photographing people. She launched another project, Minneapolis Strangers, soon afterward.

There are ripple effects to her posts. After she photographed a homeless woman named Cindy in early January, thousands of people commented and shared the post on Facebook. Glaros set up a GoFundMe campaign for Cindy that raised more than $3,500.

Stephanie Wipf, another one of Glaros’ subjects, talked to her about having Type 1 diabetes and received a message from a friend of a friend whose daughter had the same disease. The woman wanted the toddler to meet someone else with diabetes so she would know she wasn’t alone. Wipf met them at a dance studio and they danced, adorned in tiaras and dance clothes, checked their sugar levels and each left with a new friend facing the same life challenge.

“She’s really good at finding people with good stories,” Glaros’ husband, Corey McNally, said. “She just knows.”

Glaros recently announced that she is releasing a Humans of Minneapolis book before Christmas. It will feature a selection of her favorite posts and some that have not yet been published. As for the blog, she said she will continue doing it as long as it makes sense to do so.

Until then, she’ll keep getting to the heart of Minneapolis one photograph at a time.

 

Madison Bloomquist is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.