Hey, everybody! So, I just remembered today is my post day, and after ascertaining that our current theme is once again free, I decided to write about the topic I meant to do my last post on but never got round to: the Humans of New York social media movement. It was started by New York photographer Brandon Stanton in summer 2010, with the aim of providing “an exhaustive catalogue of New York City’s inhabitants”. It was originally started with the goal of shooting 10,000 street portraits and plotting them on a map, but now is more about just creating a photographic census of NYC. Originally, Stanton was doing HONY as a full time job, albeit without an income, supported only by a couple of benefactors. Now, HONY has been monetized, with a popular and New York Times bestselling book.
The photos are published on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter as well as on his website, though I’m not sure which came first. The photos are all captioned by a quote of varying lengths – some a line, others a paragraph, other mini sagas spread across two or three posts. HONY has become something of a quiet internet sensation, well known among social media users – 15 of my friends have liked the page – and around the world – Stanton has allowed people to use his idea in different places around the world, although he will only personally promote a select few that he feels show sufficient dedication to the project. When I travelled to Nis, in southern Serbia over the summer, volunteers at the jazz festival I was playing at created a ‘Humans of Nisville’ Facebook page.
But why has a simple photography project become so popular, so mainstream? For me, the magic is in the stories. Often, I glance at the photo but regularly take the time to read the full caption. You just find out such interesting stuff about people and their lives, from the heartbreaking to the hilarious, things you would never guess was going on in their lives. And when Stanton takes the project abroad – most recently, Iran and Pakistan – you discover even more, about the people who live in these less economically developed and often conflict-riddled countries. You find out about the humanity the media is so desperate to hide in it’s reports about rebels and guns and massacres. You find out that people all over the place are, in essence, the same.
The Facebook comments are also something to behold. No idiotic memes in sight, and rarely a negative comment either. Instead, people have often taken the time to offer advice, even if they doubt the intended recipient will read it, or to empathise and share their own experiences. These – often heartbreakingly honest – comments regularly garner sympathy, empathy and responses from all over the world. The President of the United States has even commented on one of the HONY posts! I just find it incredibly refreshing to see comments, even on often tragic and sad posts, that are mostly upbeat and positive.
I just want to share one last thought with you – one that’s not actually my own, but belongs to a commenter on one of HONY’s posts at the end of the summer. It said something along the lines of, “I was about to ask whether you’re still in Pakistan, or back in New York. But then I realised that that was the whole point. It doesn’t matter.” To me that’s incredibly profound, and gave a whole new meaning to the page that I hadn’t really considered before.
Have you seen the HONY social media? What do you think? Pointless project, or powerful photography? Let me know your thoughts, and if you haven’t seen HONY, I’ll leave all the relevant links below.
Thanks for reading,
An Overthinking Teenager