'Humans of Iowa City' photo project documents faces in downtown places

Lifelong resident sought to capture city's beauty

Diana Nollen
Published: December 30 2013 | 11:25 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:26 am in
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Two men with long gray beards pause on the Ped Mall. A young man with a mohawk strolls through vendor tents at a Summer of the Arts festival. A willowy young woman with rainbow-striped knee socks snaps a photo. Santa meets up with a hippie and an anime character with bright blue hair on a sunny warm-weather day. A window washer smiles for the camera as he rappels down the side of a building.

These are the Humans of Iowa City, a Facebook snapshot project by Bobby Jett, 52, of Iowa City. He's a lifelong resident who wants to share the beauty and diversity of his hometown in the most widespread way possible these days, via social media. So far, 2,535 people "like" his Facebook page and 793 are "talking about this."

"I'm surprised at how fast it took off," said Jett, whose day job is working in property management with the Moen Group, residential and commercial property developers in downtown Iowa City.

"I was very shocked," he said, as he saw the number of page followers begin to snowball. The project† started on a whim this year, when he saw an ad for starting a Facebook page.

An avid photographer, he has been immersed in genealogy projects and the Find A Grave project, which helps searchers and researchers find ancestors' grave sites. He understands the importance of documentation for future generations, so he sees Humans of Iowa City as another facet of the human record.

It's inspired by the Humans of New York photo project, which has 2 million "likes" on Facebook and has spawned a website and book.

Smartphone in hand, Jett began walking around downtown Iowa City streets in June, looking for willing subjects. So far, everyone he's approached has been game, but he also can tell when someone is too harried or hurried to stop for a photo.

"I'm trying to get a mix of all walks of life, and just show that we're all the same," he said. "We all have red blood, we all breathe the same air. We look different and we have different attitudes, maybe, but we all grew from the same cloth, so to speak.

"Iowa City is just this amazing small area but thereís so much creativity here -- it just oozes out of the sidewalk. You canít help but pick it up when you're walking around town."

It's that same kind of vibe he experienced in India last February.

"It was like nowhere else Iíd ever been in my whole life," he said. "The people just ooze love out of their pores. They're just smiling and welcoming and there's just such good, positive energy there, even in the slums. I had a driver take me way deep, deep into the slums one day and the kids were so excited to have their picture taken. They're so beautiful and happy.

"It just showed me that it isnít what you have materialistic-wise. Money affords you opportunities, but there's no way that money makes you happy. It's who you surround yourself with, and your energy and your positivity, and the people that are in your life that make your life happy. So I got pleasure out of being able to walk around and meet a lot of people," Jett said. "Itís a real high. It keeps me very energized and content."

The recent deep freeze hasn't been conducive to asking people to pause for a photo and a quick quote.

"In the summer, I really want to engage them more and have them tell me a story or at least a comment," he said. "I kind of want it to be a promotional tool for Iowa City, so I love it when they say something about Iowa City."

But he doesn't steer their comments in any particular direction.

"The quotes are usually always, 'I love Iowa City, I love Iowa City, I love Iowa City,' which is perfect."

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