Northeastern students have probably seen Natayan Jean around campus many times. He’s worked as a building superintendent for 39 years, helping to keep the campus clean.
Now, thanks to the Faces of Northeastern photo project, students aren’t only passing Jean in the school’s buildings, but also seeing his face on a banner outside the athletic facility where he most often works.
Faces of Northeastern is a man-on-the-street style series started by photography manager Matthew Modoono and senior writer Joe O’Connell within Northeastern’s external affairs office. Most people are familiar with the style, which harks back to Humans of New York, but by focusing on campus, the photos serve to bring the Northeastern community—students, staff and faculty—together in a creative way.
“We started last summer and it was just an idea the two of us came up with as a way to feature all the great people who make up the Northeastern community,” O’Connell said. “We have an opportunity to talk to so many people from so many different walks of life.”
When they first started the series and the two would walk around campus to randomly approach people, they would have to explain the point of the project every time. Recently, though, students have learned about Faces of Northeastern and recognize what O’Connell and Modoono are doing.
When the university posts the photos and quotes on its Facebook page, comments thank Northeastern for doing this project. The posts have made alumni nostalgic for the Northeastern campus.
“These people trust us—they let us get their pictures and their quotes,” Modoono said. “And it’s fun to walk around campus and hear [students] say they’ve already heard of [Faces of Northeastern] and seen it… People are emailing us now asking to be a part of it.”
And, of course, there’s the perk of possibly being featured on a campus banner if you’re part of the project. Students haven’t been shy, Modoono said—they ask if they can get put on a banner.
When they find someone they want to talk to, the duo work together, with Modoono getting the best shot and O’Connell asking questions about what the students hope to accomplish that semester or how the person’s day is going.
Sometimes there have been “unintended” themes, O’Connell said, like a recent installment that featured three first-year students talking about how the beginning of their college careers have been going.
“This first year has been a big adjustment for me,” freshman Iqra Niazi told O’Connell. “I come from a small town where you know everyone, to Northeastern. But having that sense of unfamiliarity and being out of my comfort zone is a good thing.”
Mostly, O’Connell and Modoono don’t want to plan anything out. They like that the project takes on its own unique direction each time.
“The spontaneity of it is something we really enjoy,” O’Connell said. “It plays into how powerful this project has become.”