Street pho­tog­ra­pher tells poignant sto­ries

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE - By Beth J. Harpaz

NEW YORK — Bran­don Stan­ton rounds the cor­ner, spots a tiny blur of pink, and runs over to ask if he can take a pic­ture. He crouches in a busy Man­hat­tan bike lane to get the shot: a beau­ti­ful lit­tle girl with pink leg braces, a walker and a big smile, her dad posed be­hind her.

Stan­ton posts the pic­ture on his web­site, Hu­man­ — known to fans as HONY — with a mere two sen­tences from the fa­ther: “We go to four ap­point­ments ev­ery week, but I don’t mind. She’s my blood.” No names or other de­tails.

Within an hour, the im­age has 22,000 likes. Com­ments like this pour in: “HONY. Restor­ing my faith in hu­man­ity, one pho­to­story at a time.”

Stan­ton’s mag­i­cal blend of portraits and poignant, pithy sto­ry­telling has earned HONY more than two mil­lion fol­low­ers online. Now he’s putting his work in a book, Hu­mans of New York, out Oct. 15 from St. Martin’s Press.

Not bad for a guy who once flunked out of col­lege, was fired from his first job as a bond trader and didn’t own a reg­u­lar cam­era un­til 2010.

Stan­ton, 29, who’s from Marietta, Ga., and lives in Brook­lyn, shoots ev­ery day, tak­ing 5,000 street portraits over the past three years. As he strolls around, Canon in hand, wear­ing a back­ward base­ball cap he’s stopped ev­ery few min­utes by fans, many of them teenagers. “Thanks for in­spir­ing me,” Sebastian Sayegh, 19, told him.

Part of his ge­nius is of­fer­ing short, provoca­tive cap­tions that al­low read­ers to imag­ine the rest of the story. He quotes a thin, pen­sive man with a cig­a­rette as say­ing: “I’m a lit­tle bit sep­a­rated with wife now.” A guy car­ry­ing a bou­quet says: “Some­times, when I’m go­ing home to see her, I think: ‘No­body should be this happy on a Tues­day.”’

Some pho­tos are pure celebration, like pic­tures of kids ti­tled “To­day in mi­cro­fash­ion”: a dap­per boy in blue suit and sun­glasses, a smil­ing girl in a bright red, Is­lamic-style head­scarf and tu­nic.

Ten­der sto­ries are fea­tured, too, of­ten emerg­ing from the ques­tions Stan­ton has de­signed to quickly “un­cover the most mean­ing­ful events in a per­son’s life.”

HONY has even in­spired a par­ody, Hum­mus of New York, and copy­cats — Hu­mans of Syd­ney, Hu­mans of Port­land — but they are pale im­i­ta­tions.

Stan­ton ac­cepts no ad­ver­tis­ing for HONY, but he oc­ca­sion­ally asks fans to sup­port causes re­lated to his pho­tos. HONY fol­low­ers do­nated $300,000 for Hur­ri­cane Sandy relief; $30,000 to send a kid to camp and $100,000 to a YMCA. (Stan­ton wanted the fash­ion la­bel DKNY to give $100,000 to the YMCA af­ter his pho­tos ap­peared in a win­dow dis­play with­out per­mis­sion; when the com­pany only gave $25,000, his fans made up the rest.)

He doesn’t take notes or use a recorder: “Once they say the quote I am go­ing to use, I know it. So I don’t have to re­mem­ber the en­tire con­ver­sa­tion.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press asked Stan­ton to an­swer some of the ques­tions he asks his sub­jects — and a few oth­ers. AP: What was your sad­dest mo­ment? Stan­ton: I had flunked out of col­lege and lived with my grand­par­ents for a cou­ple of years. And dur­ing that time my grand­fa­ther got re­ally bad Alzheimer’s. I got back into the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia right as his Alzheimer’s was start­ing to get kind of bad. I knew when I was leav­ing he wasn’t go­ing to be the same per­son when I came back. AP: What’s your big­gest strug­gle right now? Stan­ton: I’m a sin­gle con­tent pro­ducer of a blog seen by mil­lions of peo­ple. I don’t want to mess it up and I don’t want to lose it. So it’s al­ways on my mind. My great­est strug­gle is hang­ing out with friends, fam­ily and my girl­friend, and be­ing present. AP: What ad­vice would you give a large group of peo­ple? Stan­ton: Don’t wait for the per­fect mo­ment. Hu­mans of New York, when I started it, was noth­ing like it is now.… It didn’t emerge from me think­ing a fully formed idea and ex­e­cut­ing it. It emerged from me tin­ker­ing and work­ing and evolv­ing. So many peo­ple wait un­til the pieces are in place to start, and of­ten that mo­ment never comes. AP: In 2011, the AP wrote a story about your plan to take a vis­ual cen­sus of 10,000 New York­ers. What hap­pened to that project? Stan­ton: HONY’s evolved so much. It’s so dif­fer­ent from when you guys wrote that first ar­ti­cle. It used to be a photography blog. I can’t call it that any more. It’s a sto­ry­telling blog. Be­fore, I was visu­ally re­spond­ing to the street. I wasn’t look­ing for any­thing in par­tic­u­lar. Now I look for some­one sit­ting alone. I look for peo­ple who are ap­proach­able. AP: What was your hap­pi­est mo­ment? Stan­ton: That (AP) story was writ­ten af­ter six months of ob­ses­sively do­ing this all day, ev­ery day, walk­ing thou­sands of miles and tak­ing thou­sands of portraits and I re­ally hadn’t been able to get any trac­tion or de­velop an au­di­ence. Af­ter that ar­ti­cle was writ­ten, my Face­book fans jumped from 220 to 770. ... I re­mem­ber go­ing to sleep that night the hap­pi­est man in the world. Af­ter all that strug­gle, I fi­nally thought it was go­ing to work. AP: You of­ten pho­to­graph home­less peo­ple and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Does any­one com­plain about be­ing a poster child? Stan­ton: I’ve got­ten some great portraits. I’ve also been cussed out. I just have to ap­proach every­body the same way and keep my in­ten­tions clear. ... If some­body asks me to take their pic­ture down, I do it. AP: What’s the most shock­ing thing that’s hap­pened to you? Stan­ton: My fans trend young and they trend fe­male, but one night I was in Bryant Park and there was this man, about 70, sit­ting alone on a com­puter. I took his photo and said I run a site called Hu­mans of New York. Then he flipped his com­puter around. He’d been look­ing at it

The As­so­ci­ated Press


Above, a man danc­ing for tips in New York; top left, pho­tog­ra­pher Bran­don Stan­ton, right, greets a previ

ous por­trait sub­ject named BaLa.


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