Humans of New York – or HONY for those in the know – offers an incredible, and sometimes incredibly moving, portrait into the lives of New Yorkers both young and old, and has exploded into an internet sensation. If you hadn’t heard of the page before, you probably have after a story that went viral in early July, with a post commented on by the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Hilary Clinton. The post, which you can see below, features a gay teenager who fears for his future due to his sexual orientation – an incredibly poignant sentiment coming just days after the legalisation of same-sex marriage across the US.
“I’m homosexual and I’m afraid about what my future will be and that people won’t like me.”
The post spurred an outpouring of emotion from the great and good, but it’s the comments of support by ordinary people which really made the post such a heart-warming thing to see – among all the trolling, abuse and negativity that we’ve become accustomed to online, Humans of New York stands out as a community where people’s stories and struggles are met with warmth, admiration and love. As it’s New York Week on the blog this week, and coming as it has just in the wake of such an influential post, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take a look at some of HONY’s best stories.
The fascinating thing about Humans of New York is how relatable it is – we all have our own very personal stories, and people, places and moments that have touched and shaped our lives. To think that a photographer with nothing more than a personal quote or a small story from the everyday life of a stranger, attached to a portrait, can affect so many people truly is incredible. The man behind Humans of New York, photographer and blogger Brandon Stanton, started the project in the summer of 2010, roaming the streets of New York to photograph strangers. His initial project idea was to portray 10,000 New Yorkers and place each photo on a map, but his plan soon changed as he realised the reaction he was getting from his subjects, and he started to include quotes and short stories as well as his pictures… and thank goodness he did!
Heart-rending Stories and Photos of Strangers
The 31-year-old photographer already has nearly 14 million Facebook followers on and 3.4 million Instagram followers reading his touching stories. In just a few words he manages to give us, and the rest of his many follows, an insight into the lives of stranger – often an incredibly moving experience. These insights reveal both sad and beautiful experiences and private and professional challenges, as well as tragedies, tricks of fate, lucky and unlucky coincidences, failures and successes – in short, the things that make us uniquely human.
With the success of HONY, Stanton has had the opportunity to share the stories of people from other parts of the world as well. His projects have taken him to many places, among them Afghanistan and Iran, where he captured the lives and stories of locals in stunning portraits. His aims have become even broader than merely documenting the lives of others too – through the vast media platform that Stanton has gained he tries to improve lives, with events such as this one at Christmas, finding places at dinner tables for the many people in the city who face the festive season alone:
As well as his presence on social media and his photo blog, where everything revolves around his “Humans of New York” project, the 31-year-old has also published three books – the eponymous Humans of New York, containing 400 pictures with their accompanying emotional and touching stories, and Little Humans, a book documenting the children of New York and their sweet, and sometimes heart-rending, testimonies. Most recently he has releasedHumans of New York: Stories, which aims to dig deeper into the lives of Stanton’s subjects.
It’s all very well reading about Stanton, and Humans of New York, and their many goals and successes, but it’s in reading the posts and seeing the photos themselves that you can truly get a sense of the emotional and artistic power of the project. I’ve tried to pick out some of the best for you here, so tissues at the ready…
1. “I’ve tried to invest my time and money into other people’s dreams…”
Those ten stories are just the tip of the iceberg – if this has piqued your interest, check out the Humans of New York Facebook page. Watching high profile US stories from the other side of the pond, HONY is an amazing insight into the lives of real Americans and the ways in which these stories touch them, but the stories that Stanton chooses to highlight really are universal, and contain great wisdom. The stories, and often their reactions in the comments, can be touching, heart-breaking and life-affirming, but all show us that our everyday problems really do pale into insignificance. If there’s anything we can learn from these beautiful stories it’s to enjoy life as it comes, and make the most of the many twists and turns of fate and coincidence that hit us. You never know, your story might even make it onto Humans of New York!