Humans of New York

Adaptation of photograph by Glyn Lowe Photoworks, available under a Creative

Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Copyright © 2012 Glyn Lowe Photoworks

Adaptation of photograph by Glyn Lowe Photoworks, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Copyright © 2012 Glyn Lowe Photoworks

Jaime Faulkner, Editor In Chief, 2012-2013

One of the earliest lessons we’re taught as children is not to talk to strangers.  This fear of the unknown is ingrained in us at a young age, and our world today is one of paranoia. This embedded anxiety combined with our technology-infused culture has made genuine human interaction becomes almost obsolete.  Everyone is busy connecting virtually, but they won’t make eye contact with the person next to them. It’s hard not to wonder how many stories, experiences, and friends we miss out on because of fear and unwillingness to reach out. One man has made it his personal mission to reclaim this lost interaction by reaching out to strangers for the past two years and discovering what most of us miss; beauty. Since the summer of 2010, Brandon Stanton has been recording brief glimpses into the lives of New Yorkers through photos on his blog, Humans of New York. The project started out as a visual census of New York residents, and Stanton’s original goal was to photograph 10,000 people and plot their locations on a map. Somewhere along the way, the project changed. It became a vibrant peek into humanity itself. New York is known for its eclectic mix of citizens, but HONY isn’t about trend chasing or street style; it’s about people. The featured photo of the day may be of dapper old men suited up for a walk in the park, a young woman with a cornrow Mohawk and a skull tattoo, or a father and son in matching superhero gear. Humans of New York has a certain quality that’s hard to name but no less appealing for its elusiveness, and people are noticing. In the last few months, HONY has been featured on Vogue, Huffington Post, and BBC, and has over 300,000 followers on Facebook and Tumblr. Obviously something is striking a chord.

What is it about this project that is catching everyone’s attention? The photos are beautifully taken and updated daily, but that’s not it. In a world where most information is accessible at a glance, why are so many people captivated by simple stories of strangers? It’s because this project takes the unknown and makes it familiar and beautiful. New York is certainly full of camera ready stars and conventionally beautiful people, but Stanton doesn’t aim to photograph the glamorous or famous.The people he features on the blog are often shy, and ordinary at a first glance, but through his photographs, he helps them reveal a side of themselves that normally remains hidden. The hostile are coaxed into smiling, the hesitant end up sharing a story or two, and the outcast get a chance to be noticed. He picks a face in the crowd that grabs his attention and shows his audience why they are special. He said it best himself; “You are really giving these people something by taking their photo. Hopefully it is always positive, but you are really creating an event in their life.”

What does this have to do with fear of the unknown? By taking strangers and making their lives personal, HONY is breaking down the barrier of distrust between the familiar and the unfamiliar. When I stumbled across the site a few weeks ago, I was left breathless by the vastness of human expression and variation among people. The photos left me giddy and startled, and I couldn’t explain why. I’ve always loved people watching, but I began to earnestly study crowds. I picked out individuals instead of viewing a mob, and came to the answer; every person has a story completely their own, but most of these will go unnoticed. What is called the mundane becomes miraculous upon further inspection, but most people are too busy focusing on themselves to look twice, myself included. I was stunned by a sudden loss, a loss I had been cultivating my entire life by dismissing strangers and sticking to myself. I realized everyone will die with stories to tell, and most will go untold and unseen unless someone takes a moment to pay attention. This is where HONY succeeds beautifully. Something like this project is unprecedented, even unorthodox. Approaching strangers and asking for photos and their stories is something most people wouldn’t dare to try, but Stanton pulls the risk off effortlessly. The attention this project has received reveals an international craving for simple stories. If a normal pedestrian on the street is special enough to be featured on what now is a very popular site, then that means no one is beyond notice. It gave me hope and reassurance that maybe someday, I’ll have a story worth listening to.
This humble photo-journalism project has morphed into a phenomenon. HONY manages to make real connections in our over-connected world, and highlights the best of human nature in one of the world’s most vibrant cities. It’s shown me that the unknown doesn’t have to be approached as a threat, but rather as a promise, and that every story has a little beauty in it. I was so encouraged by this project I decided to devote my entire first page as an Editor in Chief to talking about it. Asides from giving a very cool idea some exposure, I couldn’t put my finger on my compulsion to share it for a while. The reason came to me in the process of writing this article; Humans of New York has inspired me as a person and writer to take risks and make more connections. Since discovering this project, I’ve made an effort to start conversations with people I’d normally overlook, treat strangers with kindness, and listen carefully when someone is speaking to me. As a writer, I’ve started taking risks and aim to make readers take a second look and really think about their surroundings. I want the Horizon Sun to be a positive and accurate reflection of student life at Horizon, just as HONY is to the city of New York. My fervent hope is that the paper can become a medium through which all students can express themselves, and reflect their interests and their ideas. Instead of disliking and avoiding the unfamiliar, we should be working towards understanding and appreciation, and this paper can be a tool to making that happen. If we can capture moments of life here, and give readers a glimpse to a new point of view that makes them pause for a moment, we will have done our job well. The point of a paper, after all, is to tell stories, and I hope the next one we cover is yours.

Check out the project at http://www.humansofnewyork.com/