Brandon Stanton’s job in New York City is pretty unusual. Everyday he wanders throughout alleys, streets and city gardens searching for new stories to tell by means of his clicks. However he’s not just a photographer, neither a journalist, nor simply a reporter.
After being fired from his previous job (he was a businessman), Brandon started to create an exhaustive catalogue of New York City’s inhabitants. He set out to photograph the New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map. Somewhere along the way, when he reached about 10.000 pics, he began to interview his subjects in addition to photographing them. Alongside their portraits, he included quotes and short stories from their lives. Thus the blog Humans of New York was eventually born with these features and today it has reached 8.790.000 likes on Facebook and 1.557.400 followers on Instagram.
For who hasn’t already heard about the blog, I heartily recommend to spend some time watching the images from the page, reading the descriptions and just get lost in them.
The daily practice at taking pictures for four years made Brandon think about the right way to approach strangers on the street, how to succeed in making them feel comfortable and, eventually, in making them open up. Appearently it’s all a matter of what he calls the “energy process”, that is an empathic method he always follows, and it allows to transform a situation of strange uncomfort and unpleasantness in something intimate yet sociable and open. What matters to Brandon isn’t just the aesthetic or ethnic peculiarities of the passers-by (in fact he’s not such as a National Geographnic reporter) but their individual distinctiveness. That is: their personality, the single ethnicity whose each of them is the unique exemplar.
Making people feel comfortable is not, in the first place, caused by spoken words. As a matter of fact, asking “Can I take you a photograph?” or “Excuse me, may a make you a portrait?” could lead to the same result, both positive or negative. It is the energy spreading through the human contact, instead, to really prove decisive.
If Brandon, while approaching, shows himself nervous or anxious, he certainly spreads an unpleasant energy, hence people around him will subconciously react by proving suspicious or, worse, distrustful-claims Stanton. But if he’s calm and peaceful, the feedback migh be positive, which frequently happens.
Then he takes the first photographs and he progressively starts asking some questions, if people are willing to share something. Brandon’s point is to escalate the various levels of closeness just to reach the very heart of the other person. At first, he asks very broad questions and the related aswers tend not to be significant yet: to broad questions follow generic answers- not exactly intriguing. Here’s an example:
-Give a piece of advice.
Broad questions lead people to enter their comfort zone and contribute in making them feel protected: they’re not forced to lay bare. An actual effort is required, later on, when Brandon gradually investigates from the general to the specific informations. The whole point of the energy process (and of Brandon’s job, too) is making everyone appear unique and different from the previous people inverviewed. Abstract speeches are thus unnecessary: to him don’t matter opinions, nor philosophical perspectives in themselves, but the concrete stories that initially caused them. While people speak, think or gesticulate, he takes some other pics.
Hence, due to the first example, a possible development of the conversation could be:
-Give a piece of advice.
-Tell me about the time you tried to be optimisic.
- Take risks.
-Tell me about the time you didn’t take risks and then you didn’t regret it.
Or, once again:
-Whom in your life did you find the hardest to forgive?
Sometimes, instead, he focuses on single emotions (such as anger, fear, relief, satisfaction) that are usually linked to specific events in the mind of everyone. The purpose is always to make come to light an original story, due to its concreteness.
It happens, too, that certain questions remain unanswered: Brandon however doesn’t force anything, in order not to break the relaxed environment he’s so good at creating with strangers.
Brandon is therefore a master of empathy: he’s able to be sympathetic with the newyorkers he meets; he makes them open up, like many Pandora’s vases but with a reversed flow: holding life’s pain and bitterness, they release hope.
Humans of New York is so appreciated for the humanistic spirit of the page, avoiding a pseudo-intellectual attitude.
The blog is such a success that it has become a book and, starting from the HONY style, lots of similar pages have spread all over the main social networks, capturing images from the others main cities in the world. For example, there are Humans of Dublin, the italian Humans of Rome, the colorful Humans of India. And again Humans of Paris, Humans of London…