Human of New York

“New York is the meeting place of the peoples, the only city where you can hardly find a typical American.” – Djuna Barnes

About a year and a half ago, my daughter showed me the “Humans of New York” Facebook page. She, a budding young photographer, and I, a nearly 30-year veteran shooter, quickly became fans. On a college scouting trip to NYC last spring, we secretly hoped that we would run into the page’s creator Brandon Stanton, but no such luck (New York is a city of more than 8 million, after all).

In a recent interview for ABC News, Stanton said that there were 2 things that led him to become a now-famous street photographer. First, he bought a camera; then, in 2010 he lost his job as a bond trader in Chicago.

He moved to New York with the idea of photographing 10,000 of its residents. He created a blog titled “Humans of New York” also known as HONY to its fans (, which over the span of a few years has gained millions of followers and eventually led to a book of the same name. It has even spawned copycat projects across the country as well (notably “Portraits of Boston”).

“Humans of New York” is an appropriate title. Stanton’s photos more than just celebrates the diversity and eccentricities of New Yorkers, they capture their humanity as well. He wanders the streets of the Big Apple spending his days photographing people whose faces strike his fancy. Some are extraordinarily dressed, while others can look like you or me. But in capturing the uniqueness of each person, his photos reflect upon the individuality of all of us and therein lies the popularity of his work. We all have a story or two to tell that someone else can relate to.

Stanton started out posting just the photos to the blog. But later he also began adding short quotes to most of the pictures. His subjects talk about the triumphs and tragedies, likes and dislikes, their loves and losses. The words add another dimension of humanity to the already touching photos.

Along with the quotes one of the things that really made Humans of New York’s popularity take off was social media. Stanton posted the pictures from his blog to Facebook and has about 3.8 million followers.

Stanton doesn’t use any elaborate techniques or equipment. His photos reflect that fact. They’re simple and elegant. But it’s through that simplicity that his subjects’ personalities shine through.

Most street photographers prefer a surreptitious or even clandestine approach to produce candid photos. For the most part Stanton eschews that method. Most of his subjects know full well that they’re having their picture taken. Stanton simply goes up to them, explains who he is and what’s he’s doing, then asks them if he can take their picture. Some say no but most say yes.

Stanton photographs them more or less where he finds them. They stand there posed for the photo, but rather than looking stiff and uncomfortable, they are relaxed and candid. And such is the skill of Stanton. He’s able to put his subjects at ease, and is shows in his pictures. You get a sense of who they are. There is an immediate and solid connection between subject and photographer, a connection that extends itself to the reader as well.

The humans of Stockton will get a chance to see and meet the creator of the Humans of New York. Stanton will be speaking at the University of the Pacific’s Long Theater on April 2 as a part of the Powell Scholars Program. It’s open to the public and free but there is a 350-seating limit at the theater. There will be a reception and book signing at UOP’s Vereschagin Alumni House at 4:30 p.m. followed by his lecture and a Q&A session in the theater at 6 p.m.

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