Rabi Sun wants people to know what the University of British Columbia looks like. Not what its buildings look like, or what the statistics say it looks like, but how it looks through the faces of the people who go there. Since he started at UBC as a first-year student in political science in 2009, Mr. Sun has been taking dozens of portraits a month of people on campus and posting them online in his blog and Facebook page under the name “Portraits of UBC.”
Mr. Sun, working alone, challenges himself to take 10 photos a day. “Photography,” he says on his blog, “is a way for me to express myself and learn about the world around me.”
As if that weren’t enough, after roughly three months into the project, he grew bored with simply taking people’s portraits and decided to add an accompanying question and the subjects’ responses with the photos. His simple yet blunt questions – “What makes you happy?” or “What do you take for granted?” for example – have often caught his subjects off-guard.
Although he hadn’t started the project with this in mind, he says he now strives to “more or less build a community feel using these photos.”
Mr. Sun’s initial challenge was leaving his comfort zone to explain the project to strangers and ask if he could take their pictures. Some days, he may ask 10 people in a row before he gets a yes response. Yet for the most part, he says the project has been a positive experience.
“I’ve come across a lot of surprising people – in a good way,” he says. One of the more positive aspects of the project, he says, is that he sometimes finds himself engaged in conversation with his subjects long after the shutter button is released.
Mr. Sun hopes someone will take over the project after he graduates in 2013. Eventually, he’d like to see other universities join in to create a website of portraits from campuses across the country. He has already inspired a similar project at Carleton University.