I can only imagine that walking through the streets of New York, everything appears to be a blur. Movement is chaotic, sounds echo through the space and one must feel generally on edge.
With numerous boroughs, side alleyways, shops, fire escapes and brownstone stairs, people are found all around, each going through their daily routine. Most of us wouldn’t take the time to stop and notice each person in order to get his or her story, thoughts and advice. But Brandon Stanton does, in quite the unique manner.
Stanton is a University of Georgia graduate with a degree in history, and upon graduation, received a job as a bond trader with the Chicago Board of Trade. After three years with the company, Stanton claims the job went south, and after losing his position, he promptly moved to New York City, ready to pursue a new job: taking portraits of random strangers in the streets.
What seems like a rash decision, and what admittedly came as an unwelcome shock to Brandon’s mother, has ultimately become one of the most well-known and highly-followed photography projects of the past decade.
Simply titled “Humans of New York,” Stanton’s photography project began on Facebook, but was then introduced to Tumblr, where it has blossomed. The project has now garnered over 1.5 million likes and followers. His fans span the globe, where the project has even sparked similar initiatives, such as Humans of Iran, Humans of Paris, Humans of India, Humans of Rome, and more.
While the simplicity of the project makes it seem akin to a scientific catalogue of Homo sapiens, those that view the photographs can’t help but feel emotionally jarred by the life, love and reality of the subjects.
From the proud posers to those shying away from the camera lens, each photo tells a story. A father stops to hug his child tightly, a woman sits against the wall of the train station, a group of men lean against a graffiti-covered wall and a bearded man crouches on the side of the street.
Admittedly, yes, each is an intriguing moment caught in the click of Stanton’s camera, but what really tugs at the heartstrings are the captions Stanton provides with each post.
After gently asking each subject for permission to take a photo, Stanton holds conversations with those he photographs. they are surprisingly candid with their thoughts.
The father hugs his child and admits that they must go to the hospital four times a week for her treatments, but he doesn’t mind, as she is his blood. The woman with her back against the wall laments the recent end of her engagement. The men along the graffiti brick admit to their identity: members of The Forbidden Ones, a Puerto Rican biker gang based in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the bearded man smiles. He is homeless.
“Do me a favor,” he says, “Send this pic to every modeling agency in town, and tell them you’ve found a face that will really make people stop and stare at their products.”
It is this honesty, this hopefulness, which truly embodies Stanton’s work. This sort of work can only remind us to examine humans as individuals, as each possesses a unique backstory, full of personal tragedy and triumph. Each of us, traversing Oxford’s campus, holds experiences that have shaped us into who we are today.
We are united as Miami University but divided based on our ethics, reasoning and beliefs.
We never know who has been touched by divorce, cancer, natural disasters or mental illness, just as it may not be readily evident who is celebrating a birthday, receiving a paycheck or delighting in a recent exam grade.
Though we do not currently possess a “Humans of Miami University” photo project like Brandon Stanton’s, it would do well to look upon others as individuals, apart from their crowds. It is the diverse set of interests and passions that makes this campus, and this world, so great. Brandon Stanton and Humans of New York makes sure to remind us of exactly that.