Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Humans of New York

Title:  Humans of New York
Author:  Brandon Stanton
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2013. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250038820 / 978-1250038821

Book Source:  I read this book because I have followed the project for a while and wanted to see the compilation in book form.

Favorite Quote:  "The people in these pages are very dear to me. By allowing me to take their photo, each one of them helped me to realize my dream. And I am so thankful for their participation."

I have been following the Humans of New York project for a few months and reading up on the phenomenon it has created. So, when I saw the book, I instantly picked it up.

Brandon Stanton was not a photographer. He got his first camera in January 2010 while he lived and worked in Chicago. In July 2010, he lost his job. Over the next couple of months, he slowly travelled from Chicago to New York, taking pictures all the way. Upon his arrival in New York, his thoughts were, "What struck me most were the people. There were tons of them. And they all seemed to be in a hurry."

Over that summer, he took over 600 portraits in the city. His intent was to create a photographic census of New York City. The plan was to take 10,000 portraits and plot them on a map of the city.

He had a blog and some visibility. A friend, then, introduced him to the power of social media, creating a Facebook page. This was followed shortly by a Tumblr blog.

The project then expanded to include interviews and short statement from the person/people pictured. In a Mashable interview, Brandon Stanton had this to say about the progression: "It went from photography to pictures of people; from pictures of people to portraits of people; from portraits of people to captions with the photograph. It went from captions to stories to where it is, fully formed, today — which is these very deep interactions with strangers on the streets." ("The Human Behind 'Humans of the New York," October 2013)

With the power of social media, the project has gone viral. As of today, the Facebook page has over 8.3 million followers!

The project is being incorporated into teaching curriculums. It has also spurred many many similar projects all over the world, from San Francisco to Sydney, from Pakistan to the Fiji Islands. This year, a project has even begun around the fictional world of George R R Martin's Game of Thrones series.

What amazes me about the project is:
  • The diversity that the project encompasses - race, religion, age, and along every other line. Perhaps, that reflects the diversity of New York City, but it takes a special person to still capture so many different elements of it.
  • The very personal nature of the portraits and stories - Many of the stories that accompany the portraits are intensely personal. What is it about this storyteller and about this project that enables people to share the information?
  • The viral growth of the project - over 8 million followers in a couple of years and thousands of comments on every Facebook post.
This book published in 2013 is a compendium of some of the portraits and stories featured in the project. The dedication of the book reads, "To the City of New York - I had this crazy, juvenile idea that you were going to make all my dreams come true and you did."

 The book itself is a collection of about 400 of the portraits that Brandon Stanton has done. Some have short narratives to go with them, and some just have annotations as to where the scene was captured. Upon its publication, 30,000 copies of the book were pre-ordered, and it climbed to the top of the bestseller list.

So, what is the fascination? For me, I love the combination of words and photography, and the use of both to tell a story. I love the idea of capturing life and ordinary people in a positive and warm way and in a way to allow them to share their stories. I love the diversity. I know I look forward to the daily posts.

Next year should see the arrival of a new book, Little Humans. I can't wait!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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