In 2010, Brandon Stanton, a New York City photographer, started a project called “Humans of New York”. Known as HONY, this project features “street portraits” and interviews with everyday New Yorkers. He’s published the bestselling books “Humans of New York” as well as “Little Humans”, and the project has exploded through platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. On these websites and on his photoblog website, users can follow the HONY account and see the latest interviews and portraits. Often, these interviews reveal something personal, relatable, or significant about the subject of the photograph — something beyond his or her appearance.
Those featured range from adults, children, or even dogs. Some photographs make you cry, some make you laugh, some make you think about your own life. The power of HONY is that these are all different types of people, yet you relate to them and the struggles they reveal in their interviews no matter the person’s age, gender, or ethnicity. The struggles they relate to Brandon and to HONY’s almost 13 million Facebook likers are universal. I think that the huge success and following of this relatively simple project is due to the fact that the photographs and words — the people — provoke so much empathy within viewers. Personally, I look forward to reading the little interviews every morning on Facebook and Instagram. It’s like these people are giving up this very significant part of themselves to the world, and the world listens.
HONY has recently raised over $1 million dollars for the Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn which is known as a “safe zone in a crime-plagued neighborhood“. The campaign raised $100,000 in only 45 minutes and was launched because of an inspiring photo featured on the HONY page. It is quite remarkable that over a million dollars from strangers on the internet was able to come together for a worthy cause, and I think this is something that HONY has evolved into — a platform to help people realize that everyone is human, and that everyone deserves their help, whether it comes in the form of a kind word or a few dollars.
I think that HONY, in small ways, has caused us to become more forgiving and less judgmental of the people we see every day. Everyone is dealing with something in their lives, and seeing these struggles put into words, however big or small they may be, and paired with a picture of a real person has a tangible effect, undoubtedly. These photographs make us listen to people we probably wouldn’t think to talk to otherwise. It really makes you think about how every single person in the world is so full of things to say and do, and you become aware of this intricate web of the lives of human beings living on this planet, and how we can become connected through pictures and words.
It’s so rare to see empathy on the internet. You have so many instances of hatred, mockery, and negative comments from strangers on the internet. Yet, HONY has made it possible for the internet to be a source of good. A lot of the portraits featured are people who have dealt with some really tough stuff. Some of the comments on these pictures are simply amazing.
Being emphatic towards others is so important, in high school, college, and beyond, and HONY is a little microcosmic example of what the world could look like if we were all a little more forgiving.
(Check out Eric’s “If College Didn’t Exist…” for an interesting read.)