A Student from China and The Beauty of Philly

What if we tell you that the guy behind a popular Philadelphia Facebook page is a high school student from China?  

This is the first try of us translating our own stories. The original reporting of this story is done in Chinese by Hua Zong, who is going to graduate in December 2014 from Temple University with a B. A. in journalism. In Metro Chinese Weekly’s “Our Stories, Your Choice,” people voted to read it in English, and here it is.

Thank you for showing your interest, Philadelphia.

By Hua Zong and Bole Yuan

Street photography was accentuated in recent years by Brandon Stanton, a self-learned photographer behind the big-name Facebook page “Humans of New York (HONY).” Quoting pleasant chatters along with photographic sketches of the people in NYC, Stanton brought people’s appearances and their inner worlds to a test, and the result whatsoever keeps us confident in humanity. Since April, someone claims Philadelphia as a new test ground. In November, the “Humans of Philadelphia” page on Facebook has already gained 4000 likes.

Unlike Stanton, who might have seen more of life through losing a job in bond trading, the photographer behind Humans of Philadelphia is a 18-year-old high school student from China.


martin luo 2


From Humans of Philadelphia:
“What’s your scariest moment in your life?”
“I almost got shot.”
“What happened?”
“I grew up in West Philly. The neighborhood was pretty rough. One day, I was sitting on the porch with other friends. Some guy on the street just pulled out of his gun and shot us. “
“Why you?”
“Oh no, I was not the target. Someone who sat with me had some issues. Luckily, no one got hurt. “


Above: Hua Zong captured how Martin got the story of a subject.  

Below: Martin’s work.


Yuanxin Luo, who goes by “Martin,” is spending his third year in the US and the second year in Abington Friends School. Each weekend, Luo will leave his host family in Jenkingtown for a photo safari in Philly neighborhoods such as Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square. Generally, he looks for people who have a knack at dressing up. Sometimes people with unusual hair styles walk into his lens, too.

“I really, really like street photography in Europe and in America,” Luo said. One of his hobbies is to read photo blogs on street fashion. “Photography was like something I have always dreamed to do.”

martin luo

Last semester, he took his first photography lesson, filling a tight spot left by a classmate who dropped, and bought his first DSLR camera. But when he finally set up his first Philly trip with his photography teacher, Donna Russo, he felt nervous.

“It wasn’t easy for me to talk with strangers,” he said. “My teacher was by my side.”

Realizing Luo had never been in any part of the city other than Chinatown, Russo decided to take him to LOVE Park, and then the courtyard of City Hall, and then Rittenhouse Square. Walking through various social scenes at the center of Philadelphia, Luo became more and more enthralled. Encouraged by his teacher, he started to engage the people on the street.

“If he was nervous he didn’t really show it,” Russo said in an email. “It was so much fun for me to watch him ‘at work’ as he mingled, talked and shot people — all kinds of people!”


Luo would sometimes ask the subject to recollect his scariest moment in life. In one of his earliest posts, a subject talked about twisting his ankle in wrestling. In a more recent post, another subject shared his story of “almost get shot” in West Philly.

“Conventional thinking” would simply assume it unlikely that a non-native English speaker like Luo could capture meaningful snippets. But he can. He manages to jot down intimate moments of life such as the first date of lovers, the witness of childbirth by parents and the farewell to the deceased. According to Luo, he learned a lot from reading novels and living with an American host family. But perhaps what helps most is the exposure to life he gets from portraying Philadelphians.

One of Luo’s tricks of getting good subjects is to show up in festive events, and Philadelphia has quite a few, such as Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival in late spring and Midtown Fest in fall.  “People dress up at festivals,” he said. To his satisfaction, Luo captured fashion and spirits in all seasons.

In fact, Luo’s Facebook page is the second one that bears “Humans of Philadelphia” in its title. Last year Philadelphia Inquirer profiled Chuck Putnam, a 71-year-old amateur photographer who created “Humans of Philadelphia: Honoring our human diversity thru photography.” Both photographers are exploring the city with their enthusiasm towards photography and the diversity in Philadelphia.

“If I can run into a street without traffic, and if I could have the fortune to meet a cool guy on a skateboard, it will be perfect!” Luo said, picturing a scenario. “I will ask him to pose in the middle of that street, and I will snap that photo.”

“There is always someone on the street who can touch my heart,” Luo said. “Who can make me to have the desire for their stories. And in the end, everyone has different stories to share.”


Pitch 1: Photography, Symphony, A Cappella or Guns?

In our first try to pitch stories to the generous Philadelphians, we were quite grateful that so many people participated. Here is the pitch, in case you missed it:

We got 92 responses to this pitch, and 61 showed their interest in Humans of Philadelphia. Thank you all for the great editorial assistance! We will post that story very soon!