Humans of St. George

In September of 2010, New York-based photographer Brandon Stanton started a side project he called “Humans of New York,” or HONY. Stanton’s idea was to create a visual catalog of the people living in New York. Photographing strangers he met on the street, Stanton soon began collecting their stories. The project showed a very human side of a city that can sometimes seem full of nameless faces. Since HONY started in 2010, hundreds of other photographers have followed Stanton’s example. There are Humans of Chicago, Humans of Austin, and even recently a Humans of Salt Lake.

So, why start a Humans of St. George (HOSG)? Since I moved here in 2010, I’ve noticed many divisions in St. George, and southern Utah by extension. But when it comes down to it, we’re all just people, and it’s a lot harder to place someone in that “other” category once you know them a little.

The goal of Humans of St. George is to help us see the humanity in each other, especially in those we see as different from ourselves. Project subjects are generally met on the streets of St. George and always asked the same five questions. “How did you end up in St. George (and/or) what has kept you here?” “Where do you fit in in St. George?” “How would you describe your personal sense of style?” (Can go deeper than clothing.) “How would you describe St. George to someone who has never been here?” “If you could have one wish for the St. George area, what would it be?”

I hope you enjoy this exploration of our community.

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Shauna Ritter

“My initial move into St. George came when my husband was hired at a local company. It was a big change from growing up in the Midwest and living most of my life in the northern part of the country. I love the countryside — a different beauty in each direction — and the climate (mostly). I’ve become quite accustomed to the warmer weather, seeking out a sweater when it hits 70 degrees. There is a unique mix of people and activities in the gorgeous backdrop of southern Utah. We had moved many times prior to coming to St. George, and with my kids getting older, I wanted some stability for them. That has been the most influential factor in staying here.

Honestly, I don’t feel that I fit in in St. George. But in all fairness, I’m not sure I have felt I fit in any of the (many) places I have lived. There have been times in the past when I had wanted and tried desperately to fit in. It is a painful thing, even when self-imposed, to fit into an existing place and attempt to gain acceptance for the parts of you that fit that mold and disregard the rest.

Some people are so quick to label and judge with that definition in mind. For example, mother of four — bam, a slew of expectations. Working mother of 4 — bam, even more. LDS — wham bam. You’ve got a significant list going now. Why do we do this? I know it’s partly human nature, but I don’t want to live someone else’s checklist. I’m changing and growing as a person and still figuring out my list that’s right for me.

So I think I make my own place, and that’s where I fit. It’s not that I don’t want to fit in but more that I don’t want to fit into a place someone else defines for me. It’s lonely sometimes and can still be painful, but I do have a few amazing friends who always let me come as I am.

I’ve always wanted to be individual, unique. Growing up in a very small Midwest town may have fueled some of that. I was fascinated by the ‘big city’ and all the things I didn’t get to see and do. Life experience has brought some new perspective on that front, but I haven’t ever lost my desire to be unique. I think I have an edgy, rock-n-roll style bordering on the rebellious … okay, sometimes crossing over into rebellious. I like to get dressed up sexy and sassy but also like men’s jeans and a graphic T-shirt and sneakers — I love Converse sneakers! I’m slightly obsessed with shoes period, and if you lose me shopping, that’s where you’re most likely to find me.

It’s a not-so-small town that is still having some growing pains. The climate is pleasant if a bit hot in July and August, but almost-year-round sunshine is pretty fantastic. There are lots of great people here. Compared to other places I have lived, the population seems more stratified here. Strong-held beliefs seem to fuel the divide. Whether it is pride in their heritage and ancestors or religious beliefs, these two categories will affect your experience here.

Natives born and raised here have a strong connection to the city and influence in government and economy. “Outsiders” seems to apply to anyone not born and raised here, no matter how long you live here. I remember working the senior games and an older man asked where I was from. I said, “St. George,” and he clarified — “Were you born here?” When I said “no,” he just shook his head and said, “Oh, you’re not native.” The condescending tone was strong, and I wondered, “How long do I have to live in a place to call it my home? To claim it as mine?”

Your religious affiliation also seems to be a dividing factor. Again, it seems a black-and-white question: LDS or not?

In reality, the question is not so simple, but that initial filter is a big obstacle for many … on both sides.

But, I repeat, there are lots of great people here. You have to dig a little further and work harder for it, but there are amazing people to be found.

I wish there was a more open-minded mutual respect and interest in those around you. Not just the ones around you that are “like” you.

Realize there is an amazing story behind each person. Their life experiences and beliefs will differ from yours. Each person walks their own path and experiences life differently. Imagine what you could learn if you just were willing to listen, to see, to understand even a fraction. It doesn’t threaten your beliefs to do this. Have pride in your heritage, that’s wonderful, but realize other people have heritage that they are equally proud of. Do you know anything about it? Aren’t you curious? I am. We live in a big amazing world! St. George is part of it. It doesn’t diminish our awesomeness by acknowledging the awesomeness in others.

I believe in the unlimited supply of awesome — it will never run out, expire, or evaporate. We all have it within us. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!”

 

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Ronald Mark Coulson II

I first moved to St. George, entirely against my will, when I was 14 yrs. old. Since then, I have moved away and back several times. The last time I moved back was over 6 years ago. I was 33 and I realized how much I actually adore St. George. Of course, we have our fair share of problems — what city doesn’t? — but they are minor compared to other places I’ve lived. When I try and pinpoint what exactly keeps me here, the simplest answer is this: It feels like home. I have met many wonderful people here, including my fiancee Kayleen Williams, and I have had the privilege to become great friends with many of those individuals!

The varying hues of red that makeup our landscape create a perfect backdrop where retirees and university students blend together in a unique storm of wills and desires. And while I am no fan of the summers here, I love seeing our city grow and evolve. There is a little something for everyone, and if what we have isn’t what you want, you are just a short drive from other options.

Aside from working as a bookseller, helping kids find those books that speak to them, you might find me out here pushing all things creative. I was a two-time team member of southern Utah’s Poetry Team, which competed on a national level, as well as a host for the local open mic known as Storm the Mic. Sadly, the open mic isn’t operating as of right now, but I have some things in the works that will hopefully pan out and we can get it up and going once more. There are others in the community who inspire me to do more, to give back more, and I look forward to being able to do so.

I believe in being comfortable and approachable. I am a big guy, and have been told that I can come across as intimidating, so everything I do is with the idea to be as inviting and approachable as possible. I do have to admit that I quite possibly have an unhealthy love for beards! More often than not, you’ll see me sporting one of my own. As for my personal style of creative writing, I love capturing moments … for better or worse. It is within these moments, where time seemingly stands still, that I can find beauty and/or introspection.

There are times when I wish that our city would embrace growth and change. There are those times when it seems to cover it’s ears, stamp it’s feet, and shake it’s head no like a defiant child. I guess that’s expected. I believe, also, that we could be more inclusive and more accepting … and while I am seeing us head in that direction, it isn’t without a great amount of growing pains.

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Leigh Pectol

“I am a native of St. George, born and raised. My family has lived in southern Utah for generations as descendants of the early Mormon pioneers. I always thought that I would leave St. George and live elsewhere for at least awhile, but once I had my children with my husband, we realized how important it is to have family around to help with raising our children. The old adage of “It takes a village” is very much true. One thing I really appreciate about living here is that it is so family friendly. The city is relatively safe, and there are so many places to have fun as a family. I especially admire the efforts the city has made in creating parks and events that are family friendly.

I don’t really know where I fit in here in St. George. I have my family and a few friends, but I am not really a part of the larger community. I have social anxiety, and it is difficult for me to engage with people. I often cannot muster the courage to try new things or meet new people. I have had many years of counseling to help me better cope with my disorder, but it has never fully gone away. The biggest factor in becoming better at presenting myself in public has been becoming a mom. It was after I had my daughter that I really pushed myself to be a better example to her (and now also to my son). Most people don’t even realize that I have a problem because they never see the ‘behind the scenes’ me.

I suppose if I fit in anywhere, it is by living a quiet life as a wife, mother, daughter, and sister. I work, but my work isn’t impressive, nor does it get me out in the community. In fact, I love my job because it allows me to work in a behind-the-scenes fashion. I also try to be a decent neighbor, if one that mostly keeps to herself.

I love to read all kinds of books, and I usually have one in my purse and at least one or two audio books loaded onto my phone for listening on the go. Reading is not just entertaining but also educational. I have learned so much about myself and the world through books.

St. George is, in a word, beautiful. I never appreciated the beauty when I was growing up here as a child, but now I fully appreciate the desert beauty.

If I could have one wish for St. George, it would be that there would be more places for young adults to socialize and meet. St. George tends to cater to either families or retired persons, and it doesn’t really have many places where young single people can go. I know that the area is still growing, but there is room for the community to try and include this specific demographic more.”

 

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