Photos: Humans of Berkeley and the Bay Area

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Isa Shisha: “Isa was waiting for the bus and listening/moving to music. I hesitated to disrupt her but glad I did.” Photo: Nancy Rubin

Today Berkeleyside is honored to introduce an exciting new project by our longstanding contributing photographer Nancy Rubin. With Humans of Berkeley and the Bay Area (HUBBA for short), Rubin plans to chronicle in wonderful images the people of Berkeley and beyond. We present some of the first photographs to be included in the project here, and we chat to Rubin to find out more about her goals and inspiration.

Rubin is a long-time Berkeley area resident who moved here from her native Los Angeles to attend UC Berkeley, a family tradition begun in 1929. She taught for 25 years at Berkeley High School. Since retiring in 2002, she has travelled extensively, honing her photography skills. She specializes in candid shots, capturing people being themselves and the emotions of the moment.

Be sure to click though to the HUBBA project on Facebook (and “like” it) to read extended captions for the photographs shown here and many more.

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Guillermo Willy Perez, co-owner of Sliver Pizzeria. Photo: Nancy Rubin

What is HUBBA?


HUBBA stands for Humans of Berkeley & The Bay Area. As I say on the HUBBA site, “it is a photographic experience of this unique and astounding community, capturing in images the beauty, zaniness, and diversity of Berkeley and our neighbors.”

What inspired you to launch the project?

A friend recently posted a link to Humans of New York and I just loved what its creator, Brandon Stanton, a photographer, had done. Immediately I decided that I wanted to do something similar in my community.

I was also inspired by a commencement speech given by the writer George Saunders. In it, he said that his biggest regrets were “failures of kindness.” I love that. No one ever regrets performing an act of kindness, no matter how small. So I’d like to weave the idea of kindness as sort of a thread throughout the entire HUBBA project, both in the images I capture and through talking to people about their own experience with kindness. Maybe the responses will help us all think how we can practice more kindness in our lives.

For every image I post, where I have interviewed the person, I’ll be making a donation to a nonprofit organization that they select from a list. With that, I hope to reinforce that simple message: be kind.


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Mary Milton, 75 years old: “How long have you been exercising?” “I used to do yoga but then I’ve been coming to the Senior Aerobics class at the Y for about 10 years. I like it because it has dancing and the music makes moving so nice and easy.” Photo: Nancy Rubin


What do you hope to achieve with HUBBA?

I love traveling and taking photos of local people. I felt it was time to turn the camera on the only place I could ever imagine living. I am having so much fun meeting a cross-section of the people where I have lived, studied, and worked since coming to Cal as a freshman. With this project, I’m able to share my love of this area and my connection to it with the rest of the world.

What led you to photography, and to photographing people in particular?

I’ve always enjoyed taking photos, but it’s only in the past couple of years that I have become passionate about photography. Many things fell into place at the same time.

I love reliving trips through the images I’ve taken and it’s almost always the people that I want to remember. So many times no words were exchanged due to a language barrier, but the smiles said so much. I am drawn to street photography and especially people. It is people’s changing expressions, their own personal style and body language, that I find fascinating.

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Alarice Garrett: “What do you think your style says about you?” “It’s colorful. It means that I’m happy, I’m outgoing, full of life.” Photo: Nancy Rubin


For some, I suppose, photography is a way to record the moment for history. For me it is also a way to push open the door of the moment. The camera acts as the doorbell to the present and allows me to greet, meet, and get to know so many people who otherwise would be strangers to me.

How do people like being photographed when they are out and about in public?

Due to the proliferation of camera phones and point-and-shoot cameras it seems that most everyone is quite comfortable in letting a stranger photograph them. It is rare that someone has said no. I am so grateful that people do let me take their picture and take the time to talk.

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Tamai Jajahwah: “I have been dreadlocked for 48 years.” “How often do you let your hair down?” “Just at night, as it’s 7 feet long.” Photo: Nancy Rubin

Anything else we should know?

A big part of my motivation comes from a high-school classmate who, a few years ago, repaid to me a long-forgotten favor I had done for her when we were teens. Her generosity in “paying it forward” inspired me to also pay it forward.

View, and “like” the HUBBA project on Facebook.

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