Humans of Prague is a photo blog that captures unguarded street portraits and tells the stories – sometimes humorous, sometimes painful, always engaging – behind those captivating faces. Czech travel photographer Tomáš Princ is the creator of the site. He recently shared some of his favorite portraits of Prague’s foreigner community with Expats.cz and spoke to us in an interview about how he manages the feat of making complete strangers tell him their life story.
“She is my daughter in law from Brasil. She speaks Czech very well, but she says wrong verbal forms. She just said ‘me like it’. You have to say ‘I like it’.”
“It’s always the same – work, work, work and then I go home to Ukraine and rest. The worst thing is to be without a family. I’ve got better money here, but I am alone all the time. I don’t work only on Sundays, I go to sit into a park. There are these small trees, pink and white, they smell nicely. We call it ‘buzok’. I always sit there and think about my family and my wife.”
“I came here two years ago because I really wanted to live in Europe. I also wanted to learn a Slavic language. When I came, I was very ambitious. My ego has been shattered since then. I quickly realized that a status of non-EU national makes things here extremely hard. I found out there is a lot of funds and initiatives in official ministry programmes for people from almost everywhere in the world to study Czech. These are basically initiatives to aculturate people here, to let them learn the language, go to universities and so on. It was very difficult for me when I found out that the United States are explicitly not included in this. And hasn’t been for five or six years. I can say my hardest moments here are when people are assuming that I am a rich person. Just because I am from the United States. I am teaching English here, my students are from nice middle class Prague. They have normal, stable lives with state health care, contractual jobs, vacations and so on. For many Americans, this is a complete fantasy. So, being misunderstood on a daily basis is very difficult for me. When I came, I assumed that people will have more nuanced idea of what America is. But many people’s idea is very simple and exotic.”
“This work is a new experience for me – standing here with my costume. Some people like it, some people just make fun of me. But I don’t think about that. I just need to be positive, it won’t be like this forever.”
“It’s almost five years since I saw my family for the last time. We only talk on the phone, every day. With my mom, my sisters and brothers. My main goal now is to make enough money to go and see them. There is a lot of problems in Nigeria right now. I hope and I pray for my family to be safe. Every telephone call I receive from them, I pray there is no bad news. That’s the main thing – when I ask ‘how is everybody?’ to hear ‘everybody’s fine’.”
“When I was back home in Russia this year, I found this skirt in a wardrobe. My mom bought it maybe thirty years ago when she was on vacation in Czechoslovakia. So I thought that I have to bring it back to Prague.”
What’s your greatest struggle right now?
“That’s actually funny, because I am just writing about it.”
What do you write?
“It’s a story, basically about pretending to be a normal person.”
Do you consider yourself a not-normal person?
“A bit, yeah, sometimes. But I don’t think anyone is very normal. But some people live life without thinking about it. I think a lot, overanalyzing everything – everything people say, everything people do. And I am always analyzing myself as well. But when you think too much, you don’t enjoy the present. I see the people around me and I think: ‘They are enjoying life more than me’.”
Do you think that thinking about life is obstructing living of it?
“Yeah. It’s like people who take photos, because you are always looking at the subject behind a lens. It’s like I am observing, but I am not in it. That’s how I feel.”
Were there some moments when you didn’t feel like this?
“No, I’ve always been like this, even when I was a child. I never used to play with other children, I would just look at them. When I was really young, I remember being at school on a playground. There was this little wall around it and I would just sit there and observe everyone. Since I was above them, no one could really see me. I would watch them, but I didn’t want to be there with them. I was just happy, just watching.”
And it seems that you never came down from the wall ever since.
“Yeah, exactly. But now it’s very lonely, I want someone on the wall next to me.”
Click here to read a full interview with Tomas Princ, the photographer behind the highly addictive Humans of Prague site.