Brandon Stanton took a leap of faith that would later change the entire course of modern-day photography. He had just lost his job as a bond trader in Gambit Trading LLC and suddenly the world shrunk in size, at least according to him. So, with his less than $3000 savings from his previous job, he bought a camera (Canon EOS 7D) and a tripod and set out to create an exhaustive catalogue of the people of New York City. Little did he know that he was in effect etching his name in the hearts of millions of people around the globe, both young and old alike.
A Mammoth Photography Project
Initially, Brandon Stanton’s idea was to map out the lives, struggles, dreams, ambitions, heartbreaks and successes of New Yorkers through photography and accompanying short snippets of their lives. And for several months he endured rejections, weird scowls, spiteful remarks and even insults from uncooperative respondents.
On retrospect, Brandon must have seen this coming considering that New Yorkers are not exactly known for their friendliness or warmth, especially to strangers. In his memoirs, Brandon recalls how people used to look at him inquisitively whenever he approached them asking politely for a few minutes of their time. But that was only the beginning of his long winding but successful journey.
HONY blog and Facebook page
In early 2011, Brandon opened a Facebook page to showcase snaps of the lives of the ordinary people he met every day to a greater audience. And apparently, this turned out to be the watershed of his humanitarian project. Together with this, Brandon also launched his HONY blog where he gave a more in-depth account of the snippets and photos posted on Facebook. Months later both the blog and social media pages had accrued a steady following, and it wasn’t long before he gained an international audience.
Looking back, Brandon Stanton, who’s now 31 says that the first step toward the present day monumental body of work was the hardest. Not only did his mother disapprove of his idea of going around the city photographing strangers, but also Brandon felt indebted to himself to carve out a name for himself in an otherwise competitive world.
Five years later, he has more than 14 million Facebook fans and an equally mind-blowing 3.5 million Instagram followers. His humble street photography blog has seen and brought to light more than it’s fair share of the world’s dirtiest laundry and inspiring snapshots. Besides, despite his earlier misgivings and doubts, Humans Of New York is fast becoming a household name that metamorphosed out of the most modest of ideas.
Idea and Realisation
But what drove a 25-year-old man to start a purely humanitarian and artistic non-profit project? And this is considering that at that age, most young men are typically so fixated at their career ambitions that charity and dedicating their time for a worthy cause comes as the last thing on their mind.
For starters, Brandon had never intended to venture into full-time street photography. If anything, it all began as a stopgap after his brokerage business went under in 2010. Secondly, he admits that he has always been a passionate and deep person. And no sooner had he started combing through the lives of ordinary New Yorkers than he realised that he was getting more connected and drawn to the crowd.
So, what began as a casual hobby (posting city stills of New York and Downtown Chicago) slowly bore a more ambitious project. His initial plan was to capture 10,000 portraits and plot an interactive map, and in effect come up with a photographic census of the city’s inhabitants. But then again, along the way he realised that he could connect to a greater audience by adding short biographical snippets that described the subject(s) in the photos.
And it wasn’t long before Stanton realised that his shots were widely embraced and appreciated online. With that followed a soaring social media presence that propelled him to being an internet celebrity almost overnight. His idea of capturing the contours of humanity in both it’s ugly and beauty, exterior and interior has not only been fascinating in itself but also unparalleled and revolutionary.
HONY Photography Blog Today
Presently it is only in HONY that tales of secret hopes, forbidden love, broken ideals, shattered dreams come to life. And it is not because Stanton’s portraits are liked, shared and re-tweeted within seconds after being posted. But it is mostly because, in some way, they are coincidentally tailored to resonate with most people’s lives.
The Iconic HONY Photo
Take the classical example of one of his latest portraits in Iran. This summer, Brandon visited Pakistan and Iran as part of his mission of opening up this forgotten and highly misconceived parts of the world to his global audience. And so in the course of his travails he came across this Iranian Father and his 10-year-old son whose personal story has elicited touching remarks from even high-power personalities including President Barack Obama and Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
The photo, which was taken by Brandon himself, depicts the story of a man who once went to a grocery store accompanied by his 5-year-old son. On their way back he let the boy carry a bag of fresh apricots, although he trudged a little behind him the entire way. After a while, the man asked the boy to hand him an apricot to beat the scorching heat but to his amazement, the young man had already given all of them away to complete strangers. And that’s was when the man knew he was raising a humanitarian. The photo went viral. But even more surprising was how hardcore American liberalists changed their standing regarding the ongoing Iranian deal peace deal after that. In Conclusion
That’s just one of the many stories that have sparked emotions all around the globe and changed people’s perspective regarding several pertinent issues. It is almost stupefying how simple shots of ordinary people going about their normal lives can shed so much light on our diversity, fears, struggles and dreams which are so different yet so familiar. So, the next time you’re approached by an unassuming, modest tall man with faded jeans and a baseball cap turned backwards, then feel free to share your story and face with the rest of the world. Because that what’s HONY is all about.