Lucky Burqueños could see themselves pictured on a Facebook page with nearly 2,000 likes — and they don’t have to do anything to get on it.
Photographer Leo York roams Albuquerque photographing and interviewing everyone he sees on the street. As soon as he gets home, he shares Albuquerque community members’ stories with the 1,732 people who currently like his Facebook page, titled “Inhabitants of Burque.”
“I don’t do any editing or retouching for the site; the most I do with photos is just exposure, because I don’t want it to be about my photography,” York said. “If I spend hours retouching photos or try to get the perfect photo, then it’s about my photography and it’s not about the story.”
York said the page’s popularity grew exponentially as soon as he made it in August. Within a month, TEDx (Technology, Education and Design talks) Albuquerque contacted him to get involved. York said the page is now getting about 120 likes per week, and he has posted between 600 and 700 photos and stories.
“Inhabitants of Burque” photographer Leo York, right, shares a laugh with Albuquerque poet laureate Hakim Bellamy during an interview Monday. “Inhabitants of Burque” is a Facebook page with more than 1700 likes, and Bellamy plans to put out a weekly video segment on the page starting this week.
“I don’t know what I did, but I found a way to be successful on social media,” he said. “I meet people and they tell me how cool it is and what it’s done for them, but the extent of what I know my site does is ‘Blah-de-blah liked your picture. Oh that’s a really cool picture.’ It’s kind of weird to handle all this successful stuff going on.”
York said people now recognize him on the street, and many people have contacted him to be involved with the page, including Albuquerque poet laureate Hakim Bellamy, someone from Yelp and a National Geographic photographer.
“There’s a guy working for the city, and he told me yesterday that I’m revolutionizing the way to advertise, to promote people. He’s telling people at the government offices, ‘This is how you need to do stuff,’” York said.
York said the purpose of the page is to promote individuals as well as local businesses and community efforts.
“For me, it’s all about telling a story and trying to change. It’s getting to be more of a social movement, bringing it back to the awareness of our community,” York said.
York’s girlfriend, Sara Niedbalski, sometimes interviews and photographs people with him, and she said the page has influenced not only Albuquerque, but York as well.
“Knowing Leo before and after, and the experience of getting to interact with so many different people and hearing people’s stories — it really changes a person for the better,” she said.“You become more open and understanding of different types of people … even though I’m not reaping any of the popularity benefits like he is, it’s just a great thing to be a part of.”
York said out of the 700 people he has asked to photograph, only about six have turned him down. After he takes their pictures, he gives the subjects a handmade card with a picture of Bill Murray and a handwritten inspirational quote on the back.
“Who doesn’t like Bill Murray?” York said. “He’s a really weird, anonymous guy; he comes in and out of things. His whole movie career has been like that. Hopefully I can get my photo of Bill Murray one day.”
York is also a fashion photographer, goes to graduate school at New Mexico Highlands University and works as a counselor in a rehab facility. Niedbalski said York started his project to capture interesting Albuquerque fashion on the streets — but the focus quickly changed.
“You inevitably start hearing people’s stories, and you realize that’s more interesting,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you look like, they’ve got something interesting to say and that’s what this should be about. What are people doing, not what do they look like.”
Although York aims to serve the community with his project, he said he still gets criticism from some community members. But he said he’s learned to not let it bother him, and continues to collect people’s stories.
“Some people are like ‘Oh you’re posting too much stuff and you shouldn’t post it like that; you should do it more fashionable,’” he said. “That’s exactly what I’m not trying to do. But for one person to hate while all these other people love it — you can’t stop doing it because one person hates on you.”