Humans of Downtown

Photography by Cassie Tan (’24) and Content Contributions by Yushuo Wang (’24)


stArt.dt (Wake Downtown)

People come to Winston-Salem for different reasons, do different things, and stay for different lengths of time.  Humans of Downtown is a photojournalism project that reveals some of the dynamics of downtown Winston-Salem. Using downtown Winston-Salem and the people I encountered there as my subject, I wanted to explore people’s connections to this place: some of them have a lifelong relationship, while for others it’s just “a moment”. In this project, I explored themes of both rest and stability, where people find nourishment over the course of their lives, where roots take shape and grow. I aimed to freeze moments in time and provide glimpses of the energy always at work in Downtown. Therefore, I talked to the people I met regardless of their race, gender, age, or occupation to discover their connections to this city and see if I could find my own connection during this journey.

Humans of Downtown originated from Professor Phoebe Zerwick’s Community Journalism class in Fall 2022 and later became an individual study session with Professor Ivan Weiss in Spring 2023 to prepare for a gallery exhibition. My images are combined with text from Content Contributor Yushuo Wang, as well as Aine Pierre, Christa Dutton, and Bella Ortley-Guthrie, who interviewed the subjects in the photos. From the 17 people I took portraits of, I narrowed it down to 10 people (including 3 families and 2 couples) to include in this project. They are from different places, have different backgrounds, and are here for different reasons. Each of them have a story to tell, and an interesting connection to Winston-Salem. 

I came to Winston-Salem in 2021 for college and am going to leave this winter. The stay isn’t long enough for me to develop a deep connection, but I feel grateful for what I have had here. The laughs and cries with my friends, the challenges and help, and the kindness and respect I have received —- these are lifelong memories. To say thank you to everyone I encountered, and to memorize my journey in Winston-Salem, I created Humans of Downtown. I view this exhibition as a gift both for me and the people here. 

About Cassie Tan:

I’m a senior student at Wake Forest majoring in Communication and minoring in Studio Arts and Marketing. As I am passionate about visual arts– specifically digital photography, video installation, and documentary film– I have completed several video art projects with Professor Joel Tauber at Wake Forest Art Department, which were presented as flash video mobs or at a screening event. I joined the Student Advisory Committee for the Interdisciplinary Art Center in 2022 and loved this experience.  

About Yushuo Wang:

Yushuo Wang is a Wake Forest senior from Beijing, China majoring in Communication with a minor in Journalism and Statistics. Growing up in a foreign country, reporting downtown always brings Yushuo thrill and excitement. Her curiosity pushes her to explore, and she enjoys spending time having long conversations with local people. Yushuo is also a staff writer of the Old Gold & Black who has contributed 10 articles, and a shift leader for Campus Kitchen. She has also done an audio investigative journalism project on the witness of the death penalty in North Carolina with journalism professor Paul Garber. As the editor-in-chief, she worked on the edits and publication of Writing Moves, an online journal of Wake Forest students’ essays, with English professor Elisabeth Whitehead.

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