New York, New York—there are many ways of assessing whether or not you’ve “made” it here—these days it includes an appearance on photographer Brandon Stanton’s wildly popular blog, Humans of New York, in which a spontaneous street portrait is anchored by a personal quote or longer anecdote.
Following several books and a UN-sponsored world tour to document humans in over twenty countries, the project has morphed into a 13-episode docu-series as part of Facebook’s original video content platform.
Aided by cinematographer Michael Crommett, Stanton elicits his customary blend of universal and specific truths from his interview subjects. Extending the moment into the video realm affords viewers a larger window onto the complexities of each human’s situation.
Take episode four, “Relationships,” above:
An ample, unadorned woman in late-middle age recalls being swept off her feet by a passion that still burns bright…
An NYU grad stares uncomfortably in her purple cap and gown as her divorced parents air various regrets…
A couple with mismatched views on marriage are upstaged by a spontaneous proposal unfolding a few feet away…
La Vie en Rose holds deep meaning for two couples, despite radically different locations, presentations, and orientations.
A little girl has no problem calling the shots around her special fella…
I love you, New York!!!
Other themes include Money, Time, Purpose, and Parenting.
One of the great pleasures of both series and blog is Stanton’s open-mindedness as to what constitutes New York and New Yorkers.
Some interviews take place near such tourist-friendly locales as Bethesda Fountain and the Washington Square Arch, but just as many transpire alongside noticeably Outer Borough architecture or the blasted cement heaths aproning its less sought after public schools.
Those who live here will nod with recognition at the cherry blossom selfies, “showtime” in the subway, and the Bushwick vibe of the groom who proposed to his bride at Coney Island, under the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Wall of Fame.
Ditto the appearance of such local celebrities as Jimmy Webb, emeritus manager of the punk boutique, Trash and Vaudeville and Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, the city’s unofficial wizard.
Below, Stanton explains his goal when conducting interviews and demonstrates how a non-threatening approach can soften strangers to the point of candor.
It’s well know ’round these parts that certain segments of the local populace would gnaw off limbs to be immortalized by Stanton, but he cleaves to the pure serendipity of his selection process. Asking to have your picture taken ensures that it won’t be. Luck puts you in front of his lens. Sharing your truth is what makes you human.
Watch Humans of New York: The Series here.
Humans of New York: Street Photography as a Celebration of Life
Interact with The New York Times Four-Part Documentary, “A Short History of the Highrise”
New York City: A Social History (A Free Online Course from N.Y.U.)
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
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