What does Brandon ‘Humans of New York’ Stanton’s popularity signify?

It’s not commonplace that an independent writer-photographer lands up in Delhi’s Connaught Place (CP) and a large crowd gathers to meet and listen to him.

 Thus, needless to say, Brandon Stanton’s –the man behind the popular Humans of New York (HONY) project—escapade at CP on Friday evening leaves us with much to ponder upon.

Firstly, Stanton’s popularity signifies that we love to hear a good story—a story which moves us, a character that stays with us. We want, at the bottom of our hearts, to see a good photograph, something which lies buried in our minds forever. Stories needn’t be sensationalised or sexually provocative, nor need they be about superheroes. They needn’t be sycophantic about the rich and famous, or pitiful towards the poor. Stanton shows the world that stories about the common man, whom you meet every day on the street, can also be attractive and well-received, provided they are straight from the storyteller’s heart.

As one browses through the more than 6000 photographs put up thus far by Stanton on the HONY Facebook page what strikes most is the unbridled emotion of his subject that’s captured by Stanton. The entries– vignettes of a conversation and portrait photograph—provide a window to assess how intimately strangers must have opened up to this random guy with a camera and shared touching anecdotes about their lives.

Stanton’s HONY perhaps signifies that rather than bludgeoning the subject with a microphone and camera to get a quote, a practice quite prevalent in the media, what really brings out a memorable story is a long heartfelt conversation. Empathy is perhaps what sets Brandon Stanton apart when perceived as a journalist, and his sense of realism is perhaps what’s unique in the artist called Brandon Stanton.

Secondly, Stanton’s work is unique and fun because of its freshness. Neither does he use doctoral thesis kind of text, nor does he shoot with a fisheye lens or process images in the HDR. He keeps it simple and easy for his readers. Making full use of the digital platform, Brandon Stanton combines words and images to create memorable and insightful entries for the HONY.

But what’s ingenious of Stanton is that even while keeping it simple and straightforward, HONY entries are quite thought-provoking and philosophically deep. For example take one of the recent entries made during his ongoing India trip. The photograph shows a Punjabi couple with their small son and the text says:

“What’s your biggest dream for your child?”
“We’ll let him dream for himself.”

In two lines, Stanton tells a story in addition to spreading a message. And that’s why aspiring storytellers, irrespective of their mediums, must learn a lot from this guy.

Thirdly, Stanton’s wide reach and the love that HONY has garnered speaks in volumes about the growth of an independent web-based creative platform. A small Facebook based photo-blog grew into an internationally admired project. Someone who began by wandering around New York City with a camera clicking candid portraits of strangers is now on a United Nations world tour, commissioned to capture stories from around the globe in his own style.

Stanton didn’t have any glamorous credentials to flash when he started pursuing his liking; he just had the social media at his disposal where he put up his work and the world, eventually, responded.

HONY’s success is a clarion call to all those young creative minds who feel restrained by existing barricades of establishments. HONY stands out as a shining example of how in an internet-driven world an artist can independently pursue his passion with consistency and grab the headlines someday.


This piece was published on September 14, 2014 in the Hindustan Times.