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Inspirations >> Photos & People

Inspiring Change for the Greater Good

Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton takes portraits of people and in the process, reveals the humanity all around us and in us.

Image: Humans of New York

Going beyond the photograph

If the name Brandon Stanton doesn't ring a bell, maybe the website Humans of New York will. Stanton is the man behind the lens and has 13 million people reading his Facebook page every day.

Started in the summer of 2010 after Stanton lost his bond trading job, the 31-year old Chicago-native had originally planned to photograph just 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photographs on a map. Not all were willing to be photographed and interviewed, but one thing led to another and the project has evolved into something a lot bigger and quite possibly, never-ending!

Turning a somewhat solitary activity (street photography is often about just staying unnoticed) into a global forum, Stanton's portraits are often accompanied by his subject's quotes, which are usually a starting point for many of his Facebook fans to share their own personal stories. Sometimes they are brief but telling one-liners; others share their deepest fears and expose themselves vulnerably to a worldwide audience.

The beauty of the project is that it shows the heart of New York - her people. It is this human element that makes it so popular. Though the Q&A format isn't new, the concept has gained traction worldwide, with localised versions popping up all over the Internet (there are 17 such pages at last count).

Image: Some students of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. Humans of New York/Facebook

Interestingly, or perhaps naturally, the Facebook pages have also become a platform for charity and supporting causes. Certain images highlight the subject's personal struggles (financial or otherwise), leading Stanton's Facebook followers to initiate crowdfunding. One notable crowd fundraiser rose over USD 1.4 million for Mott Hall Bridges Academy students to visit Harvard University as part of a summer program, way above the targeted USD 100,000.

Image: Humans of New York

Need advice on approaching people for their photographs? Here are some tips from the man himself. Learn to connect and lose the fear of rejection - Stanton spends more time talking to his subjects rather than taking their photograph, and an average of two in three people would decline his request to take their portrait when he first started (now, it's just one in three).

Image: Humans of New York

If there's anything to take away from this article, even if you don't plan on running a website like Stanton's, let it be the fact that photographs are about one's emotions. The photos have certainly inspired many, and the story behind each photograph has definitely helped viewers to connect to the subject.

How many artists can claim that their work transcends social, political and cultural differences and creates a supportive, international community?

*Stanton uses a EOS 5D Mark III and EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens for his photographs.

Brandon Stanton

Brandon Stanton is a Chicago-native who started Humans of New York after a stint as a bond trader. He now resides in New York and continues to take pictures every day.