The Strangers Project: anonymous stories to connect people
By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, USA, Jul 26 (EFE).- For the past 13 years, Brandon Doman has been collecting anonymous accounts from people across the United States. What began as a way to kill time during his university days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has grown into an archive of 75,000 personal stories that have become his way of life in New York.
“I just ask people to write something honest, anonymous and that it fits within a page. The result of that is that you get things that are funny, emotional, inspirational, tragic… it’s just all these different reflections of the human condition,” Brandon explains to Efe surrounded by dozens of hanging texts and drawings.
Under the gigantic metal ribs of the Oculus building at World Trade Center plaza, Brandon’s stand is located in a small store with a large window that immediately captures visitors’ attention thanks to its facade that only bears the name “The Strangers Project” and a question: “What’s your story?”
Hundreds of sheets of paper held together with tweezers hang from strings spread all over the walls, which are also adorned with small white lights that create a cozy and intimate atmosphere.
Visitors begin by reading one of the stories that another that came before them has left behind in ink: it might be the story of the young woman who is still looking for a requited love, or the one about someone who has just come out of the closet after years of repressing their true self, or the account of a survivor of sexual assault.
Other stories feature a father wishing his daughter who is still in her mother’s womb a happy life, the irregular immigrant who has been able to settle in the country legally, or the laments of a tormented war veteran.
Many visitors end up asking for a pen and paper to write their own story, allowing the anonymous chronicle of human emotion to continue to grow.
Joanna, a young Swiss woman visiting New York, has just left her sheet on the counter and says she feels, “Relieved, because it was what I really felt inside.”
“I was walking around and I saw it and I started reading these stories that are really inspiring; to see all these people, where they come from, what they are really thinking inside, because when you see all these people walking down the street you never know what they are thinking,” she tells Efe.
Brandon says his nomadic project has seen him travel through more than a hundred cities in the country and that in places like New York, confessions are also written by people from all corners of the planet.
“I started off curious about people, and if anything I’m only more curious now,” he says. “Just seeing the incredible capacity people have to connect with each other’s stories when given the right platform to do so. These come in from all ages, all walks of life and people come in and read these stories from all these people we share our world with”.
Some of the participants, like Jackie Cerisano, repeat or establish a closer relationship with the project and Brandon.
Cerisano went from sharing her story in 2018, in what was a “cathartic moment,” to becoming a volunteer who helps Brandon by greeting visitors.
“I love being in this kind of space, seeing people’s reactions and reading a lot of stories myself as well. The fact that it gives people a space to just express themselves, express their emotions and feel a lot less alone is really nice,” Cerisano says. EFE