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October 2017
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The incredibility behind Humans of New York’s triumph

Stories of immigrants, lovers, families, widowers, children and street artists. Stories of sorrow and stories of joy. What is the overarching thing that makes those narratives so exceptional? They are all combined and exposed to the world through the lens of the incredible photographer of the Humans of New York’s (HONY) blog- Brandon Stanton. Through the blend of high quality photographs and deeply captivating tails, he portrays a thorough insight into the lives of everyday New York civilians. And so far Brandon’s work was a howling success. With more than eight million followers on social media and a number one New York Time’s bestselling book, HONY, has established a distinctively engrossing trend. A trend which was not solely set in NYC, but one that gained followers from all around the world resulting in the creation of similar pages as HONY. Yet, the central question remains: “What put Stanton’s blog at the top of the ladder in comparison to its counterparts?” To provide an answer to this question in this column I will briefly summarize the key factors standing behind HONY’s success which have eventually made it so distinctive.

If I had to review Brandon’s work in two words those would be passion and persistence. “The early days were very tough, six months in—I was broke, I’d been working on HONY every day, non-stop, for a year before it got any attraction at all,”  Brandon shares about his initial experience. And what remains the biggest astonishment is that in the beginning it started off as something much simpler than it is now, as the photographer’s idea was simply to make a catalogue containing pictures of New York City’s residents. However, plunging deeper into the process Brandon slowly came to the realization that it was not about the portraits, but the people themselves. Their intimate revelations were so profoundly captivating that they set out to create a complete story world around one simple photograph. It is mainly those narratives that contributed to HONY’s immense triumph as they are not merely structured as introductory notes, but reveal personal stories of misfortunates, break ups and even death. “I lived in Mosul for five months under ISIS” is the confession of one of the many people snapped for the blog and it discloses how this man was a victim of horrific acts of violence on the side of ISIS members. This story is so personal that the man’s face is not captured but instead is replaced by a picture of his shoes. After diving a bit deeper into my investigation it came to my attention that HONY’s copycats tend to follow the same pattern by posting a small description of the interviewees. Yet, none of them manages to embody the charm and intimacy of a person’s story as well as HONY does.

An additional feature that sets HONY apart from mimic-pages is the photographer’s engagement with tragedies on a worldwide level. In the summer of 2015 he toured around Pakistan in order to capture the faces of people that are part of forced labor. Despite shifting away from his common New York set, Brandon’s initiative attracted the attention and admiration of his fans and resulted in him launching the Indiegogo campaign against bonded labor in Pakistan. The shutterbug was once again doing the same thing as before-capturing both people’s faces and stories, but this time for a good deed. It did not come as much of a surprise that his campaign was a success with a final fund of 2.1 $.In fact, a short mention should be paid to another crowd funding event that Brandon started, namely the Indiegogo campaign to raise money for a trip to Harvard University for sixth graders from Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The idea for this has sprung from the pure intention of the school principle- Ms. Lopez- to get her students inspired about the education there. “I want my scholars to know that there is not a single place they don’t belong,” she states as a further indication of her determination for the campaign.

Finally, HONY’s success would not be possible without touching upon the more sensationalistic nature of things. The point that I am trying to make here is that Brandon’s blog eventually really took him places…and I mean places! In the winter of 2015 he was invited to the White House and he had the chance to meet and photograph Barack Obama himself. In their interview, the president disclosed about personal experience and talked about a very low point in his life. “I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I was thinking maybe this is not what I was cut out to do”. Apart from this legendary meeting, our guy-Brandon has further enhanced his blog portrayal by attending the Met Gala later this year. There he had the extreme opportunity to take close shots of celebrities such as John Legend, Neil Patrick Harris, etc. “I’m a believer in the ordinary person, that the ordinary person is just as important and has an equally unique perspective on the world as someone who is famous or perhaps more privileged,” Stanton says.

Humans of New York took a big step further, a much bigger one than any of its counterparts. Replicating an already established idea is an easy task, but the persistence and effort to initiate such prosperous thing can only be understood by its creator. Most importantly, despite the fact that HONY started as an unpretentious portrayal blog all the hard work put in by its originator has now paid off. Sadly, HONY’s copycats certainly cannot compete with such rapidly growing blog, which in fact, has its own book and even a mobile app!


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