Capturing the Individual: ‘Humans of New York,’ by Brandon Stanton


Jessica Bermudez-Deane, Staff Writer

Brandon Stanton speed walks around a corner to catch up with a little girl and her father. Approaching them, Stanton kneels down and asks if he can take their picture.  She is wearing pink knee braces and has a huge smile as her father leans over to hold the sides of her walker while Stanton snaps a picture. “We go to four appointments every week, but I don’t mind. She’s my blood.” Next Stanton spots a young man leaning against a brick wall, his eyes avoid the camera lens as Stanton listens to him speak about living by himself once he got out of foster care.

These kind of pictures and captions are what make up the blog on Facebook and Instagram titled Humans of New York. Each day Stanton spends several hours walking the streets of New York City, picking random people and asking them questions such as “what is the saddest/happiest moment in your life?” and “if you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people what would it be?” He creates a special combination of poignant, profound, and often times funny captions paired with simple portraits.

This magical blend allows people to take a glimpse into the lives of regular people and share in an experience or emotion of a person on the blog. In an interview with the New York Times Stanton reflects, “It seemed like a stupid idea, just taking pictures of people on the street, but there’s a comfort, an affirmation, a validation in being exposed to people with similar problems.”

Stanton moved to New York in 2010 after he lost his job as a bond trader in Chicago. When he arrived, he was a stranger to the city and nearly broke. He had only owned two cameras in his life and has no previous experience in photography or journalism. And yet, miraculously in just three years he has become an influential photographer who is constantly stopped on the street by his young adult readers. Originally, Stanton’s idea was to take all   these portraits and organize them by neighborhood into“a virtual map of the city”, where you would click on a neighborhood and scroll through the pictures of the people that lived there. However, as his project went on, he started to stop and talk to the people he photographed, inquiring about who they were or their life experiences. He has amaseed over nine million followers on Facebook. Now hundreds of his pictures paired with stories have been compiled into the book Humans of New York which became an instant New York Times bestseller its first weeks in stores. Stanton allows for a place where people can share their lives for others to hear and be inspired by. The intimacy and simplicity of his photos truly makes them one of a kind.