1000 Londoners is a project of films and people–it’s like Humans of New York, but with videos, and all the speakers self-identify as “true Londoners.” Anyone can be nominated and as such the interviewees reflect the colourful human landscape of London. This project is the brainchild of Mark Currie and Rachel Wang, the directors of Chocolate Films (a social enterprise film production formed in 2003).
‘The aim of the project is to get people in London talking, sharing their stories and understanding how everyone else lives.’ says Reece Lipman, one of the principal film makers. It was this diversity that triggered the concept of and commitment to the 1,000 Londoners project.
As Reece describes:
One morning Mark was filming the Duchess of Wessex in Buckingham Palace. He was sitting in this room where The Queen could have walked in at any time, there were priceless portraits, antiques… everything you’d expect from the Palace. That afternoon however he ran a filmmaking workshop in a different part of the city with some homeless young people for a completely different project. Those intense differences in one day prompted him and Rachel to brainstorm ways to bring all of these different parts of the city together. They decided there was no better way of doing this than having people telling their own stories, showing everyone as not just a face in a crowd but an individual with a unique story. From that basic idea, 1000 Londoners was born.
1,000 Londoners is not the first attempt to document the rainy island. Since 1937, the British Mass Observation project has kept a record of ordinary and everyday moments in Britain via photographs, surveys, diaries and projects.
This project is strikingly similar to Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York. His photographic representation of the iconic city is illuminating, and just like 1000 Londoners, the subject diverse. Again, the emotion incited by the city is evident, even from just an image and a caption. Described as a “census,” his aim was initially to build an “exhaustive catalogue” of the city. But the further the project progressed, the more evident it became that no such project can be exhaustive. How can cosmopolitan, growing, vibrant cities such as London and New York ever be exhausted? Says Brandon, “People are so different here that people feel free to be different, themselves.”
HONY has spawned a movement, with all corners of the world seeing similar acts. There’s Humans of India (described as “the photographic census of the psychedlic storybook I like to call home” by its founder) and the smaller yet colourful Humans of Newcastle, paying homage to the English north eastern city. Not many of us know much about Tehran, but the faces in Humans of Tehran offer that insight, and the street photography portrayed in Humans of Vilnius is a fascinating art form.
Just like in these cases, the films in 1000 Londoners are diverse – reflecting the nature of its subject and the city. So far, films have been shot in a helicopter, the sewers, and the bedroom of a male escort.
1,000 Londoners has also secured an interview with the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone:
With so many people, each with a unique story, it has always been hard to define a ‘Londoner.’ It’s often surprising to meet someone born in the city – instead this is a place that lures people in through emotional and economic power. Reece agrees that the label is not easily defined, and says that what the project has revealed is that ‘being a Londoner is more a state of mind than anything else.’
‘One of our key criteria is that all of the people featured throughout the project must consider themselves a Londoner, whether they have been here their whole lives or got off the plane yesterday,’ he says. ‘That means that the thing that makes someone a Londoner is that they feel a connection with the city in some way. This doesn’t always have to be positive of course but that connection, that emotional response is what we have found, so far at least, makes someone a Londoner.’
A time capsule, a digital portrait, a unique study – a captivating city. An ever-evolving variety of people with different looks, backgrounds, outlooks, jobs, dwelling, habits, motivations and ways of being. The mantra behind 1,000 Londoners is that ‘Everybody is interesting.’ People make places, and the interaction between the two, in this city and others, will continue to be a fascinating study.