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Humans of New York’ Finds Inspiration in the Random

Erin McCauliffe | Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We’ve all been guilty of it at some point. For me, it happened this summer at a Ke$ha concert.
No, I did not crowd surf or participate in illicit activities, but I did snap a few pictures of strange strangers. What else are you supposed to do when you see a bald man with a painted head and a pink beard?
Of course, there are different strategies you can implement. You could pull out my go-to and snap a fake selfie, try the click-and-run technique or stand far away so there is no way he or she will detect your sly intentions (although, this low-risk tactic usually results in low-quality creeper shots).
I’m sure you can relate to having tried out at least one of these techniques, but would you be courageous enough to ask a stranger for a photograph or even to strike up a conversation with the person to find out his or her story?
That’s exactly what Brandon Stanton, creator of the Facebook-page-turned-book, “Humans of New York,” does daily.
According to a 2011 New York Post profile, Stanton had been sporadically interested in photography while working in Chicago as a bond trader but became more and more active after losing his job in 2010, focusing on people he saw on the street.
On a vacation to New York, he found the city to be the perfect place to explore with his photography. He decided to make a move to the Big Apple and began his project in November of 2010.
Stanton says on his website that he planned to turn his project into a photographic census of New York, weaving more than 10,000 portraits into an interactive map.
However, this idea changed after his friend persuaded him to set up a Facebook page dedicated to the project. In one year, the page garnered 500,000 followers, and the number stands at over one-and-a-half-million today.
As his method of presentation progressed, so did the structure of Stanton’s media. He soon added a new aspect to his photos: captions. Stanton started to find out the stories behind the faces he photographed. With a mixture of visual and written elements, the audience can gain deeper insights into the lives of the people pictured.
This combination drew more people to the page and led Stanton to again change his intent for the project. He decided to provide new photos each day, complete with quotes and captions.
The photos featured on the Humans of New York page feature a variety of people, from a germaphobe on his morning commute in a clean suit, to the inside of a 16-year-old’s surprisingly insightful journal, to an ancient man with a flowing silver beard and head of hair quoted saying, “I look like God. Don’t I?”
The self-titled Humans of New York book was released Oct. 15. and features 400 pictures accompanied by quotes, captions and stories. I have been an avid fan of the Facebook page for a while and just received my pre-ordered copy.
The book contains photos from all three years of the project thus far, which adds dimension to the book, since Stanton’s pictures have evolved greatly over time.
One downside of this fact is that only recently have the pictures started to delve deeper into the lives of the people photographed. I love being able to learn about how others choose to lead their lives and why they make the choices they make. Some of the captions of the earlier pictures merely state where the photo was taken. However, the photographs in the book are still beautiful and thought-provoking.
This book acts as a welcome, vibrant contrast to the dull philosophy and calculus books on my cramped desk. It serves as a quick transport out of dreary South Bend to a world filled with unique, bright scenes and people.
The book and project serve as inspiration to live life to the fullest and to stay true to who you are. Overall, Humans of New York is picture perfect.
Contact Erin McCauliffe at
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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.