When I first heard about “Humans of New York,” I thought, what could possibly be so great about it? The Internet is full of photo blogs. Everyone has a photo blog. But four unproductive hours later, I found myself hooked on it, scrolling endlessly to read all the captions supplied with each compelling photo.
For those of you unfamiliar with the project, the idea behind it is quite simple. Brandon Stanton, the creator, approaches strangers in the streets of New York and asks for a photograph and a chat. The photos are uploaded to his blog and captioned with a quote from his conversation with them. These conversations are neither insincere nor are they easy to initiate.
Engaging in a thorough conversation with a stranger and actually coming out of that interaction more familiar with that person is no easy feat in a big, bustling city like New York.
For Stanton, or anyone for that matter, mustering the courage to speak to a stranger in New York can be a huge hurdle, let alone getting them to open up about their life, and reveal their struggles, hopes, and fears. But after hundreds of tries, Stanton was able to get people to open up. It was his determination and his ambition to reach out to people that allowed his photo blog to become so successful. And that accomplishment of capturing the essence of people is what makes “Humans of New York” different from any other one. It’s innovative, and it’s genuine.
What I also love about this particular photo blog is how it miraculously brings me closer to people that I have never met before with a simple photo and quote. I enjoy the idea of sudden intimacy between people especially relative strangers and it is remarkable how Stanton is able to bring that to us through his photo blog. He photographs a person up-close and aptly chooses the right quote to symbolize that person’s spirit.
One of my favorites (I have far too many, but it’s the most recent one I can think of) is a photograph of an aspiring musician captioned with: “I’m having trouble figuring out how to make money with music, without making music about making money.”
What the musician said really resonated with me because his message struck true: that we should pursue what we love and what makes us happy, without losing sight of it. Even though he didn’t mean it as advice, it embodied his struggle and it spoke to me and taught me something new, which is fundamentally what “Humans of New York” is about.
The results of Stanton’s project have been phenomenal with its enthralling and life-changing quotes that touch the hearts of many across the country. It has inspired our own university to begin a similar project as well, called “Humans of UCI”, which is just as admirable, and heartfelt. One post I found notable and touching was a photograph of four students with the quote, “Be yourself. Actually, no don’t say that…be fearless.”
Going through the photos and quotes of my fellow students, I really feel like I am meeting a new friend with every post I encounter because every photo is up close and personal; every caption is memorable and idiosyncratic. The mundane portraits accompanied by the meaningful words bring out the core of ordinary, everyday humans living and sharing their passing thoughts. The project unites all human beings together while also emphasizing diversity. We all have struggles, hopes and dreams and that our value lies in our unique differences.
“Humans of New York” as well as our university’s new “Humans of UCI”, inspire me and teach me how to value people, how to admire the essence of people, how to embrace our struggles, and how to be happy.
Only after many failed attempts was Brandon Stanton able to successfully approach the people of New York without being turned down, and it encourages me to also try and reach out to people in the same way. We can truly learn more about ourselves by learning about others.
Kelly Cheung is a second-year public health science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org