Blog of the Weik: Humans of New York

If you’re on Tumblr, you may have come across a lot of street photography on your dashboard. Some of it may be fashion-related, but every so often you’ll scroll past a picture of an aging construction worker or a homeless musician. Accompanying pictures of these everyday people are their eccentric, ordinary or insightful commentary in the caption for the readers below. Those starkly real photographs come from Humans of New York (HONY).

Launched in November of 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton, HONY aims to capture the daily portraits of just about any New Yorker walking the streets, from toddlers to drag queens to professors on their lunch breaks. Stanton started the project by posting daily photos on his personal Facebook, each supplied with small quotes from his subjects in an effort to plot their photos on a map of New York City, thus cataloguing the city’s inhabitants. He spends three to four hours every day, camera in hand, shooting around the city, often in Manhattan.

HONY has only been active for three years, but has already cultivated a large following and has embedded its social media roots. Over 5,000 portraits have been collected on the Tumblr blog, and its Facebook page has over one million followers as of August 2013. Tumblr founder, David Karp, has called it “my favorite blog on Tumblr” in multiple interviews.

Stanton has gone on to compile 400 full-color photos and quotes into his first published work, “Humans of New York,” which was released last week.

One recently published photo depicts a woman standing in the middle of the street holding advanced camera equipment. “Can you take my photo? I have Asian parents that need confirmation I’m working,” the caption reads.

Another shows a young woman sitting against a wall in Grand Central Station, forcing a closed-mouth smile. “I’m dealing with the aftermath of a really horrible breakup,” reads the quote. “What was so horrible about it?” “Well, I was engaged. And now I’m not.”

“A photo of me once hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sixteen inches high,” the caption brags under a photo of an older, heavily mustached man with his long white hair pulled back into a ponytail.

And one captures a homeless man with no shoes, holding a flask. “What was the happiest moment of your life?” Stanton asks. “I’m pretty happy right now,” the man responds.

How does Stanton convince his subjects to open up to him in such unique and profound ways? By saying as little as possible.

“It’s easy to over-explain yourself, and it’s not really the words you say — it’s about the energy you give off,” Stanton explained in an interview with CNN. “It took me a long time to learn that.”

All it takes is a few hours of wandering around, a camera, and a couple of basic questions. I could have thought of that. You could have thought of that. But the thing is, Stanton thought of it first.

HONY is such a simplistic blog, stemming from a simple idea that not only documents the diversity of New Yorkers, but captures the daily worries, happy moments and emotional struggles we often face ourselves.

What makes HONY so fascinating is that it’s relatable. There’s nothing more assuring than seeing that a tattooed, blue-haired girl also feels pressured to get good grades in college, or a 45-year-old man still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.

Stanton has not only raised the bar for creative bloggers everywhere; he has helped contribute to the rise of photojournalism with his thousands of motionless photos, each with its own story to tell. Whether he’s sharing immigrant journey stories or exploring an older couple’s relationship, Stanton and HONY provide visual proof that though we might all look and act differently, humans go through the same ups and downs of life.