Meet Mark Box, the man behind the photoblog that’s got the city talking
Words by Nicola Foley
The Humans of Cambridge project began by accident. Mark Box, whose day job is photographing artefacts at the University Library, was out walking with his camera when he spotted a perfect photo opportunity: a woman lost in her thoughts, looking out across a sun-dappled field in Waterbeach.
“I sat down and had a chat with her, and she was very open with me, which I really liked,” he remembers. “It gave me the inspiration to approach people, ask them how they’re doing and if I can photograph them. The shot itself looks nothing like what I do now – but it was important, as it got me talking to others and started the whole thing.”
Pleased with the interaction and resulting photograph, Mark decided to evolve the idea into a series, setting up the @humanofcambridge Instagram account and beginning his new project in earnest, taking pictures of people he crossed paths with on his regular walks around the city.
His aim was to get at least one portrait per day, but he now often takes up to 15 in a single stint. The vast majority of those he approaches agree to being part of the project, he says, claiming an impressive ‘hit rate’ of around 90%. When it comes to choosing subjects, he’s drawn to uniqueness, either in a person’s looks or style.
“It could be colours or clothing, or that they are wearing something that makes them stand out from the crowd,” he explains. “If somebody has unique features, and looks different from the average person… just that individuality.
The fashion from the students, in particular, is a joy to see!”
It’s given me more faith in humanity
As a result, the ever-growing collection of photos is a burst of bright colours, body art, kaleidoscopic hair and amazing outfits, often showcasing a more alternative, diverse side of Cambridge than we’re used to seeing. Mark struggles to pick a favourite, but the person who sticks out most in his memory is a redheaded girl wearing green, photographed on Burrell’s Walk. “It’s one of my best-known pictures from the series, definitely,” he says. “Her style was iconic – it looks like a shot from the 70s, and I love that.”
With every new portrait added, the follower count grew. We delighted in spotting our friends and neighbours, recognising the person who serves us coffee, who we nod to on our morning commute, or whose clothing we’ve admired from afar. Sometimes, we even spotted ourselves. After months of social distancing, the project seemed to connect people, bringing the community together and capturing the soul of the Cambridge through its colourful residents.
Every single person photographed gets featured, and for those immortalised on the @humanofcambridge grid, it can be a surprisingly profound experience, says Mark. “The emotions of people when they feel they’re getting noticed is amazing – often they say ‘thank you for making my day’,” he smiles. “One thing I really enjoy about the project is the impact that my pictures can have on the subjects, but also on their families. A really touching one I remember was a young girl in a wheelchair, waiting at the bus stop on West Road. What caught my eye was her amazingly bright-red lipstick. I cycled by and thought, ‘Wow, I need to photograph her’. So, I went back and introduced myself, and she was chuffed to bits and really happy – and then her mum contacted me as well, and said she was just so pleased, because her daughter didn’t send many photos of herself.”
As for Mark? “I know it’s a bit cliché,” he laughs, “but the experience has given me more faith in humanity. What’s really special is that you actually get to meet and interact with complete strangers; sometimes making friends. There are people I have photographed who I regularly bump into and have conversations with – and for me that’s quite special. When I used to be a club photographer, even though I was interacting with thousands of people, it could be quite lonely – but with this, you can stop, observe, and get the bonus of hearing what people have to say.”
Looking to the future, Mark would love for Humans of Cambridge to be turned into a book or exhibition – perhaps showcasing the most popular pictures. You’ll also be able to see his photos in Cambridge Edition, as we’ll be featuring some of our favourite Humans each issue. If you’d like to be part of the next chapter, Mark’s regular haunts are the Market Square, King’s Parade, Burrell’s Walk and Garret Hostel bridge – and he’s most commonly found snapping around lunchtime. He’s happy to be approached, but if you want to get noticed, your best bet is to dress to impress – and “wear something eye-catching that represents you!”
Follow @humanofcambridge on Instagram.