Humans of New York: Street Photography as a Celebration of Life

These days any yahoo with a cell phone and access to the Inter­net fan­cies him or her­self a Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son, Ruth Orkin or Helen Levitt, but true street pho­tog­ra­phy involves more than just being in the right place at the right time. Bran­don Stan­ton, the self-taught cre­ator of the wild­ly pop­u­lar Humans of New York blog, has the ded­i­ca­tion as well as the eye and the tech­ni­cal mas­tery. His curios­i­ty and com­pas­sion are abun­dant, but what real­ly sets his work apart is its 21st cen­tu­ry imme­di­a­cy.

Dai­ly, Stan­ton wan­ders the streets of New York, approach­es strangers and asks if he can take some pic­tures. A few hours lat­er, those pho­tos light up Face­book, with cap­tions drawn from the brief col­lab­o­ra­tion between sub­ject and pho­tog­ra­ph­er. In short order, each post gar­ners hun­dreds of likes and com­ments. Nasty feed­back is a rar­i­ty. Stan­ton’s fans seem con­tent to fol­low his lead, find­ing much to cel­e­brate in straight­for­ward pos­es of par­ents with chil­dren, fes­tive­ly attired seniors, and proud odd­balls.

Cer­tain inter­ac­tions beg longer nar­ra­tives, which Stan­ton relates in the “Sto­ries” sec­tion of his web­site. These pieces offer char­ac­ter insights, and often doc­u­ment how the pho­to­graph came to be.


His gift for empa­thy is best exem­pli­fied in his por­trait of Black Wolf, The Drag­on­mas­ter. I’ve run into this dude every­where from the Coney Island Mer­maid Parade to Cen­tral Park, but con­fess that I found his visu­al pre­sen­ta­tion off putting. Unlike me, Stan­ton looked until he found some­thing uni­ver­sal in the delib­er­ate freak­ish­ness.

…we all need to feel impor­tant. Not New York impor­tant, nec­es­sar­i­ly, but impor­tant. We all need to know that there’s a place in this world that only we can fill. Some peo­ple need big­ger places than oth­ers, but every­one needs a place—a hole in the uni­verse that only they can fill. This need is so deep and food-like and so human that we will do any­thing to fill it. We’ll go crazy to feel impor­tant. A pro­tec­tive, evo­lu­tion­ary sort of crazy. When the body has no food, it will break down mus­cle to feed itself. When the ego has no food, it will break down the mind to feed itself. If we have no place in this world, we’ll with­draw from this world, and inhab­it one where we have a place.

Stan­ton’s lens pro­vides the import, yield­ing images so arrest­ing, they stop us in our tracks. Appre­ci­ate his col­lec­tion of extra­or­di­nary humans, then chal­lenge your­self to notice such spec­i­mens in the wild on a dai­ly basis.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Find­ing Vivian Maier: New Doc­u­men­tary Reveals the Vision of Obscure Chica­go Street Pho­tog­ra­ph­er

Watch as Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Steve McCur­ry Shoots the Very Last Roll of Kodachrome

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Jazz Pho­tog­ra­phy and The Film He Almost Made About Jazz Under Nazi Rule

Ayun Hal­l­i­day hopes every Glam­our Don’t will some­day find her­self a Human of New York. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (3)
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  • zappymax says:

    if Vivian Maier was still there, she would cer­tain­ly be par­tic­i­pat­ing, even if based else­where then (and now… :-( )

  • Marty Cutter says:

    Stop­ping peo­ple and ask­ing them to pose is NOT street pho­tog­ra­phy. It’s por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy out­doors.

  • nick migliore says:

    If this guy calls him­self a street pho­tog­ra­ph­er he is a fraud and a pho­ny. He is in the same cat­e­go­ry as peo­ple who take pic­tures of bowl­ing teams.

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