See — and be seen — in Humans of UW-Madison

Senior Jenna Freeman began her Humans of UW-Madison project purely out of human interest. The longer she’s done it, however, the more instrumental the project has become in her college career.

When Freeman decided not to study abroad last semester, she was determined to make the most of her time here on campus.

Drawing on her love of photography and her desire to interact with people outside of her social network, Freeman created a blog, based on the popular site Humans of New York, to document life right here in Madison.

“I wanted to come up with my own thing, but you don’t always need to be the one who has the freshest idea,” says Freeman.

Humans of UW-Madison, hosted on Facebook and Instagram, aims to showcase moments in the lives of students and community members.

The project joins a growing number of similarly inspired blogs created in cities across the globe.

“It’s … kind of just to make the world a little smaller,” Freeman says of the movement.

Unlike Humans of New York, Freeman’s blog incorporates submissions and includes photos of places like the Capitol and the Memorial Union Terrace. Still, the majority of her photos feature individuals or small groups of people, accompanied by short quotes.

Recent posts show the creators of the Hooked mobile app sitting at a local coffee shop, a student relaxing on Bascom Hill before an exam and a group of women attending a Diwali celebration at the Union.

Freeman has no set formula for how she approaches people for photos.

“Sometimes I just want to interact with people and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, you’re so cool. Can I take a picture of you and put it on my blog?’”

As a rehabilitation psychology and special education major, Freeman says she began Humans of UW-Madison purely out of human interest. The longer she’s done it, however, the more instrumental the project has become in her college career.

“I’ve always been very passionate about special needs, disability studies and autism awareness … (but) this has given me a different direction in the short term that will maybe turn into something in the long term,” Freeman says. “This is photojournalism, which I didn’t realize existed.”

Freeman isn’t sure what she wants to do after graduation. She’s interested in finding a way to combine her interests in photography and people with special needs.

No matter where she goes next, Freeman hopes to find students who are interested in getting involved so Humans of UW-Madison will live on.

“I just never thought I was artistic,” Freeman says. “This is not specifically drawing art, but it’s an art form.”

—Jane Roberts