Humans of New York Revealed

Humans of New York, commonly known as HONY, is taking the Internet by storm. What began as a humble Facebook page has expanded to include quite a successful Tumblr blog, Instagram account, Twitter persona, official website and a newly released hardcover book.

Cover of HONY's newly-released hardcover book  photo by user Bratli on Flickr

Cover of HONY’s newly-released hardcover book
photo by user Bratli on Flickr

Brandon Stanton, the man behind the camera, began wielding his considerable photographic talents and amiable personality on the streets of the Big Apple during the summer of 2010. “HONY resulted from an idea that I had to construct a photographic census of New York City. I thought it would be really cool to create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants, so I set out to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map,” Stanton states on his website.

What changed? How did HONY gain such a large presence on the Internet? Almost 1.5 million Facebook users and over 33,000 Twitter followers illustrate HONY’s rapidly growing popularity.

Stanton started out by simply taking photos of people he found interesting. Outlandish, shy, eccentric, business-casual—he photographed them all. New York City is full of fascinating individuals, and his love of photography began to expose their personalities to the rest of the world via the Internet.

Gradually, Stanton began having conversations with the people he photographed. He gathered anecdotes, advice, narratives and stories. Some were witty, some were touching, and some didn’t quite make sense. But through them, Stanton has been able to create an unconventional link between the citizens of New York and the curious stranger perusing the web.

The narratives add a depth to the portraits that can only be achieved through human connection. There’s something very genuine about the interaction between Stanton and his subjects that is uniquely translated through the photos and captions.

“What’s your largest remaining goal in life?” “What was the happiest moment of your life?” “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?” These are some of the questions Stanton asks to get a conversation going.

Often, a portrait that speaks for itself will have little or no explanation at all. In one example, a woman in a red dress holds a cigarette and poses in a doorway, saying, “New York kicked my ass.” Another photo features a man carrying two boxes, the text underneath explaining the nature of his existential crisis. He asks, “Why am I here? Why am I doing this job? Why am I carrying these boxes? I don’t think these boxes are going to get me where I need to be.”

Along with almost five thousand portraits of New York strangers, Stanton’s website features a collection of photos from Iran, as well as a page dedicated to 50 longer stories he has written that highlight some truly fascinating characters in the city that never sleeps. They have titles such as “The Governor,” “Drunk Karate” and “The Adventures of Sid the Giant Iguana.”

These stories go into detail about a certain experience Stanton has had or an individual he has found particularly intriguing. One such tale, called “The Spectacle,” follows his multiple encounters with a colorful character named Wendell. The story doesn’t serve to teach any moral lessons; it merely calls attention to one group or citizen of New York in a deeper and more detailed way.

The people Stanton spotlights are not meant to fall into categories, the chronicles are not meant to give a certain impression to the reader. The narratives simply exhibit the sides of people that the photographer sees, nothing more and nothing less.

One could easily spend hours exploring the HONY website. The blog reveals a surprisingly tender and resilient aspect of New Yorkers, always present, but unacknowledged until someone had the nerve to turn a lens on it. It lays bare the humanity of the Big Apple.

Stanton’s book, released on October 15 of this year, has been an immense success. Skyrocketing to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list on November 3, the book has managed to stay on the list for three weeks and counting. It has also been named one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for October.

Julie Bosman of the New York Times describes Stanton as “a hybrid of interviewer, photographer and eager chronicler of street life.” The Huffington Post observes, “Some street photographers hide behind phone booths like paparazzi so their subject won’t be aware of their presence, but for Stanton it’s precisely that awkward interaction, the tearing down of the wall between strangers, that he covets.”

In an interview with Beckett Mufson of Mashable, the tables are turned and Stanton is asked to give one piece of advice to a large group of people. He remarks, “Don’t wait for perfect. Don’t wait for something to be fully formed in your head to start on it. Just start, and then work it out as you go.”

As for the future of HONY, Stanton has a children’s book in the works. “Little Humans” should be out on bookshelves next year.

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About Amanda Braitman

Amanda began her illustrious writing career at the tender age of seven with a beautiful debut titled Flowers, illustrated by the author herself, who is by no means, as they say, “une artiste.” She went on to co-author a book in the third grade about why people with curly hair want straight hair, and why people with straight hair want curly hair—the work was an instant success and sold millions. Amanda has taken a hiatus from novel writing for the last nine years, supposedly to “concentrate on schoolwork,” as she said in an interview with the Paris Review. However, sources tell us that she’s secretly been compiling stories for a massive anthology. We’ll see. Amanda currently resides in Hillsborough, California with her mother and her hyperactive dog, and sometimes she tries to feed the cat who lives next door, but the cat isn’t very friendly.

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