If you are familiar with Humans of New York, then you know the work of Brandon Stanton. The concept is (deceptively) simple: A series of photographs of people he sees on the streets of New York, along with the stories they tell him.
The history and evolution of Stanton’s project is well documented. What started in 2010 as a plan to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers has morphed into a cultural and philanthropic and, I would argue, humanitarian force. With over 17.5 million followers on Facebook, 4.7 million on Instagram, and over 426,000 on Twitter, Stanton’s reach is remarkable. His scope has extended well beyond New York, as well, photographing people in – among other places – Iran, India, Mexico, Ukraine, and Kenya.
Stanton’s influence can also be measured in philanthropic dollars, in funds raised to benefit schools, refugees, hurricane survivors, bonded laborers and pediatric cancer research, to name just a few beneficiaries of Stanton’s work – and his followers’ generosity.
It can also be seen in the numerous imitators (Humans of India, Humans of Amsterdam, Humans of San Antonio, Humans of Edinburgh, Humans of Seoul, and Humans of Vilnius to name a few) and parodies (Orcs of New York, Goats of Bangladesh, Pigeons of Boston) that have sprung up.
All this from the simplest of concepts: Walk up to someone on the street, ask if you can take their picture. Talk to them about their life. Get their story. Share.
These stories can be funny, or sweet, or they can be heartbreaking or confusing. They are often a mix of all of these things, of course, because we all are, and our lives are.
Stanton is known for treating his subjects with tremendous respect, and following stories through – like when he interviewed a young man named Vidal, who said that the person he most admired was the principal at his school. The story led to the young man’s school, to his principal, who had her own compelling story, and ultimately to an online fundraiser that helped the school pay for field trips and summer programming and establish a scholarship fund for kids in a struggling Brooklyn neighborhood.
Ultimately, Brandon Stanton’s work is a testament not just to the power of photography, but also to the power of storytelling, the power of sharing, and the power of recognizing the dignity and humanity in everyone whose path we cross.