‘Complete diversity in humans’: We spoke to ‘Humans of Cambridge’ photographer Mark Box
‘I see beauty in people, I see beauty in photography, I see it everywhere and I just want to capture it’
I’m at King’s Parade at 1 pm on a Tuesday waiting outside Benet’s Cafe to meet Humans of Cambridge photographer Mark Box. I spot him a few meters away as he rushes to an elderly couple and asks to take their photo. They smile and agree, posing together in the sunshine. He greets me enthusiastically and we sit down on King’s Parade, watching people walk by.
If you’re on Instagram, over the past few months you might have noticed your friends (or yourself) posted on the @humanofcambridge Instagram account. Filled with photos of Cambridge students in their bright attire as they wander down King’s Parade, Mark’s account has almost 3,000 followers. The Cambridge Tab spoke to Mark about his project and (most importantly) asked how students might get a photo.
What is ‘Humans of Cambridge’?
If you’re walking down King’s Parade, and are stopped by the exclamation, “hey you look awesome, do you mind if I take a photo?”, chances are, you are face to face with the photographer Mark Box.
As part of an editorial project fuelled by his passion and career in photography, Mark has been taking these photos since December 2019, but they’ve gained recent notoriety amongst Cambridge students as we’ve returned for Easter term.
Mark himself works at the University Library digitizing manuscripts and objects, such as Greek and Medieval Manuscripts, and, most recently, the books of Charles Darwin. He fits taking these photos into his lunch break between 1-2 pm, from Monday to Friday.
So how do you get a photo?
In his work, Mark is looking “for complete diversity in humans”: “all ages, gender, races, and fashions.” However, there are certain elements in common, such as the vibrant colours and fashion of the sitters.
As well as photographing “very strong features” “such as long or colored hair,” Mark looks for “alternative kinds of clothing and its colours.” As I was sat with him, he pointed out to me a student with bright turquoise hair, and a woman wearing a beautiful dress and hat. His interest in fashion extends into his Instagram where full-length shots are displayed alongside close-ups of clothing – all saturated under a filter.
In terms of locations, Cambridge 105 radio has described King’s Parade as Mark’s “hunting ground.” He laughs at this description, but reveals to me that he likes this location because of the “two-way traffic” and the “green” of King’s lawn. So, there you have it, to get featured on @humanofcambirdge, wear the brightest colours you can down King’s parade on a weekday between 1 and 2 pm (your welcome).
Cambridge students still have a special place in Mark’s photography. He describes how since 2020, our “vibrancy” and use of “colours” have grown, and he likes how we combine “fashions from different decades” in our outfits. For Mark, one of the best aspects of this project is also meeting “cool, interesting people,” and making “new friends.” And, after a photographed student’s parents once requested to meet him, he therefore also enjoys “being able to be that bridge to the gap between the parents and the students.”
He also says that he loves to “give back” to the students. For example, he talks about how people he’s photographed that were transitioning genders or had just come out as gay, expressed how his photos gave them a “confidence” boost.
How it all began
Originally, Mark even planned to call his account ‘Students of Cambridge.’ However, as the project grew, a student suggested that he should name it ‘Humans of Cambridge’ instead, after ‘Humans of New York’ (a website featuring New Yorkers alongside their life stories). Though Mark says that he captures “fleeting” images over stories, he loves the name.
As the plural form Humans of Cambridge was already taken, Mark’s Instagram handle is the singular @humanofcambridge and he tells me he likes that it reflects that “it’s just me, it’s who I am” taking these photos.
Mark also reveals that, although he started taking street portraits in 2019, he began to get really engaged after the first lockdown. He has found when you “take” human interaction “away from people,” they “appreciate” it much more, hence, the lockdowns have led to an increased interest in his photos.
The Humans of Cambridge aesthetic
One thing that stands out in Mark’s work is colour. For him, it is both an aspect of “someone’s personality,” as well as something that produces an “emotional effect.” An admirer of the bright golds of Gustav Klimt’s work, he describes how, in his role at the library, “colour management” is regarded as a “specific tool.” Looking at his photos, saturated under his filter, the colours seem to vibrate. They carry the bright personalities of their models as well as the vibrancy of ‘humans’ under a pandemic.
Mark also emphasises the contact between ‘humans’ in his work. Taking photos of me after the interview, he asked that I look into the camera and pose in a way that felt comfortable and natural. As I think back, it felt like Mark wanted to create a connection between the photographer and the photographed as one ‘human’ relating to another through the camera lens. As I saw a picture of myself posted amongst other ‘Humans of Cambridge’ later that evening, I also sensed that he wants to forge connections between ‘humans’ in a year where we have been so isolated.
Rounding up our interview, I ask Mark what the future aims are with this project. As he carries out the project because he “really enjoys” it, he only currently offers prints to people that ask for them. However, in the future he’s thinking about making a photobook, and, though nothing is confirmed, would love students to see themselves in a UL exhibition of his work.
He concludes the interview by re-iterating to me again just how much he would love anyone who’s interested in his project to contact him. Warm and open, Mark Box is in many ways a reflection of his photos: images which literally brighten someone’s day.
Feature image credits: Mark Box