The Guy Behind "Faces of Belmont"

Zach Gilchriest took the Belmont community by storm when he created the Facebook page, “Faces of Belmont.” The page revolves around the stories of students, staff, and visitors on Belmont’s campus. In only two months’ time, the page has gathered nearly 600 likes!  Largely inspired by the series “Humans of New York” created by Brandon Stanton, Gilchriest has been devoutly interviewing people, thus providing them the opportunity to get their story out in the open. Luckily, I was able to ask Gilchriest a few questions about his project and experience thus far to find out why he started “Faces of Belmont,” and everything in between.

What made you decide to start “Faces of Belmont?”

I’d had the idea for “Faces of Belmont” for a while, but I spent a lot of time unsure of how I would go about starting it, and getting it publicized. This was until I remembered how huge the audience on Facebook is. I just find it so interesting that we live on a small campus and pass by the same faces every day, yet we might go all four years without ever getting to know the person behind the faces. I really wanted to explore that, and get to know everyone here within our community. And in turn, share those people and their stories with the rest of the community through the page.

You seem to be pretty anonymous on the Facebook page, is this intentional? Why?

I guess you could call it intentional. I just never thought it was something that I needed to put my name and my face all over. It’s something that’s definitely more about the people in front of the camera rather than the guy behind it. However, it’s always interesting when the person I’m interviewing turns the questions around on me and starts asking about who I am, because it surprisingly rarely happens. It’s also just a lot of fun to be anonymous with the page. Some people have heard my name, but have no idea what I look like, so it almost gives me an element of surprise when I’m going around finding interviews. It’s always cool when I first introduce myself and the person is like “No way! You’re the Faces of Belmont guy?!”

How exactly do you go about finding and interviewing people?

Usually I’ll wait for the weather to clear up a bit since I try to take most of the pictures outside. As far as finding people, I usually try and look for people who are sitting alone because that makes it so much easier to approach and talk to them. Then I’ll scope out from a distance to see if they look like they’re busy working on something, occupied, or whatever. If they look free I’ll go up and introduce myself and ask to take their picture. This is always the scary part, especially for me, being an introvert by nature. I’ve done maybe 40+ interviews at this point, and the first 30 seconds where I ask for a picture is still very nerve-wracking. I actually looked at a bunch of interviews Brandon Stanton did to figure out how he approaches this, and I figured out that it’s all in your attitude and your energy. A stranger isn’t going to let another stranger take their photograph if they look nervous or if they’re acting nervous, so I always make sure to go a bit overboard with the friendliness during my intro, and so far it’s worked every time.

Do you have any methods for getting the conversation going?

I usually begin conversations by asking where the person is from, what their major is, and what year they are. These are generally just good warm-up questions that help both of us feel more comfortable talking to each other, and help me move into more specific or more difficult questions. I don’t want to spoil my method by giving too much away, but I’ll usually follow by asking a broad question like, “what’s one piece of advice you have for the whole campus?” Usually the answer is something equally broad, like “Always follow your heart,” or “Be true to yourself,” so I always follow up by asking, “So when’s a time when you didn’t follow your heart, or didn’t stay true to yourself- what made you realize that was important to you?” This helps get down into the more honest and unique traits of the individual, and I can usually pick up on something unique to that person that I dive deeper into from there. I have about five or six broad questions that really help me find something unique about each of my interviewees.

Who has been your favorite interview so far? Why?

I have a few favorites, actually, and I like them both for very different reasons. The first one was the one I did with Michael Quintana. He’s the guy who works in the library that looks like Freddie Mercury. Before I started “Faces of Belmont," I would always see him in the library and just wonder endlessly if he knew he looked like Freddie Mercury. I thought about asking him about it for forever and when I created the page he was one of the first people I talked to. I started the big question like “so you probably get this a lot,” and he immediately cut me off and just went “Freddie Mercury?” It was so hilarious and I still have that recording saved, because it was just such a funny moment. We went on to talk for a good twenty minutes and I discovered that he’s just an amazingly dedicated and hard-working person… who also happens to look like Freddie Mercury. My other favorite was with my friend Clara Walz. She has a chronic illness, and the whole interview focused on that. She told me about how tough her day to day is and all the stuff she struggles with, but kept downplaying it like it wasn’t a big deal. She really made it clear that while her illness is definitely a part of her life, it’s never something that defines her. I just found her message to be extremely inspiring and took a lot from the interview, so it’s definitely still one of my favorites.

I saw that you recently made an Instagram page for “Faces of Belmont.” Do you have any further plans to expand?

At the moment, no. I may expand geographically at some point and venture out into the surrounding Belmont neighborhoods. I think Hillsboro Village and 12th South are very much a part of our community, so I’d love to go over to those places and see what kind of people I can find. That might be something I do in the summer when everyone’s off campus, but I haven’t really made any solid decisions about it yet. I do have something special planned for the summer that will hopefully get Belmont students involved, but I don’t want to say what that is just yet... it’s a surprise.

If the tables were turned and you were a “Face of Belmont” what is the story you would share?

If I could share one thing with everyone on the page, it would be to never be afraid of taking the necessary steps to make a change - no matter what. I had this revelation earlier this year, and ever since I started applying it to myself, things have just gotten way better for me. This is ridiculous and embarrassing, but I definitely took some inspiration from that over the top Shia Labeouf “Just do it” video. The video is insane, but I think there’s actually genuine inspiration to be found in his message. If there’s something you really want to do, go do it. If there’s something you wish you could change about yourself, change it. I think a lot of people think those sorts of things are unattainable or will come to them over time, but I’ve come to realize that those things only come to you when you actively try and get them. I thought about making “Faces of Belmont” for a long time, but kept making excuses about why it wouldn’t work, or how I couldn’t do it. At the same time, I imagined how cool it would be if I did it. I finally realized that it was something I could easily do, and so I took the steps necessary to get it done. And now about three months later I’ve got the page up, with almost 600 fans, and 40 some interviews under my belt. It’s still very early on for the page, but I’m definitely excited to see where it goes. So that’d be my one thing. Never be afraid of making a change or accomplishing a goal.