Anonymous Stories for the Instagram Age

Anonymous Stories for the Instagram Age

Handwriting is not dead. On a recent Thursday at the Fountain House Gallery in Hell’s Kitchen, 70 people milled about and read some 800 handwritten stories that were hung on clothespins along lengths of twine affixed to the wall. Each row of stories had a string of fairy lights glowing between them. Passers-by stop to read excerpts, like these three:

Life just feels a lot like Jell-O. Things are a little loose, and wriggly and jiggly & a little uncertain.

I might be transgender. I’m still figuring that out.

The first time I kissed a girl, she told me she was actually straight. The first time I kissed a boy, he went and threw up behind a tree. I am a girl with very bad luck.

Other people clustered in the corner by an L-shaped bench, pen and clipboard in hand, to write a story of their own at the exhibition, “The Strangers Project Year 10 Show.” These later joined an archive of more than 50,000 stories housed in a Brooklyn apartment.

For the last 10 years, Brandon Doman, the project’s founder, has been collecting handwritten stories in cities across the country. His favorite spot is Washington Square Park in New York. It’s a simple premise: Mr. Doman stands alongside a sign saying “What’s Your Story?” with a stack of 20 clipboards and pieces of blank paper. People stop by to write. No one signs their names. Many linger to read copies of previous contributions.

He calls this work “The Strangers Project” and shares a few stories a week on Instagram to his more than 30,000 followers. Mr. Doman published a book of highlights with Harper Collins in 2015. The Strangers Project is art for the Instagram age — a transformation of an anonymous public space into one of intimacy.

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