Brandon Stanton, the 30 year old street photography phenomenon, has grabbed the hearts of not only New York, but the entire world with his beautiful, hilarious, and inspiring photo blog. Humans of New York (HONY) has developed a large following through a variety of social media with a total of 11.5 million followers on Facebook and over 2.1 million followers on Instagram, in addition to his Tumblr and Twitter pages. Stanton lost his job as a bond trader back in 2010 and decided to professionally pursue his passion of photography, not knowing his street portraits would make for his success today.
However, if you’re not like me and actually have a life rather than waste the day away on social media, I’ll sum it up for you: Brandon walks approximately six miles per day and one mile per subject on the streets of New York, initiating conversation with ordinary people he passes on the street. He then snaps a picture of them, posts it to his photo blog and captions it with a quote of what they had to say to him. This is then shared among all of his social media where others can relate, guide, laugh, cry, and share their own stories.
Brandon’s blog portrays his ability to tap into people’s souls and extract their deepest feelings when asked a simple question such as, “What is the saddest thing you have ever experienced?” or “When were you the happiest?” It may be followed by a simple response that warms the hearts of HONY fans or a personal, elaborated, tear-jerking story. Regardless of how a photograph is captioned, it never fails to create discussion in the comments section below. HONY lovers will be the first to tell you that Brandon is a person of utter and complete humanity, changing and inspiring the way we see people and their circumstances, one photo and unknown story at a time. Brandon has branched out far beyond New York visiting various countries (sometimes accompanied by translators, depending on the country) while maintaining the exact same process of asking a question and taking a picture. His Humans of New York project has launched a number of highly successful charity efforts, has inspired countless blogs, and have united people together in a supportive and empathetic cyber atmosphere.
His collection of photographs remind us that we can be so different in that we should remember to be grateful for what we have because some are less fortunate, but also that we are so much the same in that we can empathize, relate, and connect as one. Right?
I came home after a long day of studying for my upcoming midterm. Exhausted, the last thing I wanted was to see anything academically related, so I treated myself to a fifteen minute break from studying. I slouched in my chair, tea by my side, and kicked my feet up with enough room on the desk for my opened laptop. I punched in my username and password, and next thing I know it’s an hour later and I’m still procrastinating on Facebook. But what am I to do when an adorable little boy’s photograph is captured by Brandon and makes it to the top of your news feed accompanied by the sweetest and most innocent quote. You just have to see what else Brandon had in store for his fans for the day! So you scroll, and you scroll, and immerse yourself in a world of inspiring and supportive individuals. Given that I often find myself engrossed in this photo blog, I decided to explore Brandon’s journey. I researched where his adventure began, enjoyed documentaries, and somehow ended up on page 5 of Google results — and let’s face it, if you made it far enough to reach page five of a Google search, you’re a trooper.
My research led to me to stumbling across an article titled, “The Problem with Humans of New York” by Daniel D’Addario, a writer for Gawker. Intrigued, I clicked on the title, and boy, what a read. I encourage anyone familiar with Humans of New York but especially a HONY lover to give this article a read. In summary, D’Addario’s blog entailed a criticism piece towards HONY, accusing Brandon of having a selective bias towards using specific quotes that reflect a person which then allows its readers’ limited assumptions about the lives of day to day people. D’Addario’s article then went on to state that Brandon’s selection of quotes and photo was for the purpose of clickbait and quotes, “Stanton sees people not as people but as vectors of how young, white New Yorkers see them.”
The article quickly circulated across the web and generated feedback such as, “You are not alone. I hate it too. There’s something off about it and I applaud Daniel D’Addario for at least trying to articulate that. I think he’s on the right track. It definitely has something to do with the performance of “authenticity” or “People here are going to complain about the author ragging on something “heartwarming,” but I’ve always found the site to be, for lack of a better term, exploitative. “Hey, thanks for helping me gain fame by telling me your incredibly sad life story… okay, keep up the struggle!”
I’ve read tons of other posts that were unfortunately inspired by D’Addario in criticizing Brandon’s work. To that, I say, sigh. Nobody lets anybody do anything without reeking of bitterness. The accusation of stereotyping his subjects is not justified because the quotes on the photos are meant to be vignettes, not long, drawn out biographies that explain a person’s life to suit a social or economic context. There just always seems to be people who will take a wonderful thing and dissect it into tiny pieces and draw an overall negative conclusion. Why? Why is there this recccuring theme in life of taking people’s success and feeling the need to criticize and point fingers, especially when it’s something so positive! HONY brings in money for those in need and Brandon has dedicated time to giving people a voice and letting it be heard. It’s always easy to nitpick over the small things, but can’t we just take something for the good that it brings when the bad is not that bad if not even bad at all?
Anastasia Sasewichm, a writer on The Daily DoSO published a retort, “‘Humans of New York’ isn’t clickbait – it’s why the Internet exists“. She states, “We are able to learn about the struggles of others, and that’s pretty great. We win. But you know who else wins? The people Stanton talks to, and not just the ones that get their pictures and words put into posts. A lot of these people, especially the older ones who are less inclined to status-update their lives to the nines, don’t get to have their stories told or voices heard. HONY is a conduit for different perspectives, no matter how you slice it. Anything that makes millions of people stop and consider the world around them in a new way is valid. Maybe Stanton’s method of pairing interview quotes with portraits isn’t revolutionary, but it sure is effective.”
That is what the world needs more of, as a general rule. Less nitpicking, and more seeing the beneficial sides of things. When the good outweighs the bad by a mile, why are so insistent on dwelling on the petty thoughts? It’s a page that allows us to feel for others. We see that people have reasons for being where they are, physically and emotionally. In a world that can be so cruel and difficult to live in, Brandon and HONY have allowed a way for humans to come together and understand each other. What’s so terrible about that?
– Jasmine Shaffeeullah