I’ve been an avid Humans of New York fan since he started the new ‘storytelling’ format, which is exactly what it is: storytelling, not photography. There are plenty of other, better photographers roaming NYC, I know a few of them personally. But none of them are as good storytellers as HONY, sorry guys!
Come to think of it, if his photography was superb, more technically perfect, more creative, maybe it would deter from the story, maybe it would intimidate people.. He even quoted NYTimes on their assessment of his “passable — though admittedly inexpert — photography skills”. So, maybe this level of photography and the focus on storytelling is exactly what’s extraordinary about HONY.
It is definitely more than just a project; it has turned into a movement, evident from the few charity proposals he has pulled off (‘ok, here’s the story, here’s the deal, let’s scrap for some money, bam, within a couple of hours he reaches the goal amount, and still continues accumulating). Most of his crowdfunding projects have to last only 24h because they get ridiculously overfunded. In fact, he doesn’t even do it that often, probably because he doesn’t want to overload his audience.. but every now-and-again a story comes along, and the people in the comments section on facebook get excited about contributing in some way (throwing birthday parades, match-making, job-hunting, etc). Every time a story about the hardships of life comes around, 99.9% of the time a series of comments “how can I reach this person?” will pop up.
But it’s not even about that degree of power that he has that makes it so fascinating to me.. it’s that no one can say that they know NYC like Brandon (the photographer).
And isn’t that baffling? Isn’t it enviable?
I’m somewhat envious because, when I was in New York one summer, I was also photographing “the characters of NYC” ..Every time I go, I have a different ‘theme’: one was photographing everything in reflection, one was movie locations, one was birds-eye-view, and that time, it was the characters.
But 1) I was looking for extraordinary stories and faces, when, in actuality, I’ve come to realize that the extraordinariness is in the ordinary. I also lacked the focus and devotion that he has. And really, in order to make a movement of it, in order to get it to where it is now – 6.5 million followers, COUNTLESS spinoffs and offshoots, two books, worldwide success, and an opportunity for all of us to peek into people’s intimate thoughts, not just New Yorkers – one needed relentless, all-consuming devotion.
That, and someone to appreciate it.
There are so many offshoots (/copycats) all over the internet (and the world), the other “Humans of…” and even though there’s a good effort on their part, they’re missing that something-something.. Elsewhere you may find better photography, but no other ‘Humans of ..’ is able to filter out the essence the way he does. It’s nothing you can really put your finger on, but some discreet magic.. Maybe his brilliance is in the choices he makes and the stories he chooses to publish..
Humans of Amsterdam is quite good, and Toronto has a project that accents its diversity nicely. Humans of London is a flop, I’m afraid (there are three of them, each with the same number of followers, none as impactful).. Humans of India has some good photography.
Even though I mentioned ‘storytelling’ quite a few times, HONY is a lesson on humanity, subtle but ever-present.. So there’s no way can it dismissed as just storytelling.
– everyone, everywhere has a story
– most stories are relatable, or at least thought-provoking
– a lot of people are willing to share personal, intimate moments and thoughts, and we all like to be listened to (/be heard.. to have someone verify that we matter)
– sometimes it’s easier to open up to a stranger.. (because strangers tend to be more objective and impartial?)
– the stories we read are only a really small fragment of that person’s life.. it can be a definable one, but we don’t get to know the person by reading a paragraph about them, and we shouldn’t pretend that we do, or more importantly, we shouldn’t reduce them to that fragment.
– “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about” (a frequent comment on HONY, but very true)
– all stories are unique, but it is highly probable that our stories or experiences are similar to someone else’s
– the comments section on facebook is a riot, debates on any little word or detail start brewing within minutes, and it should always be read (and contributed to!) with a grain of salt
> no one I personally know has been featured on HONY yet but the stories or physical attributes constantly remind me of people I know!
> and yes, I have thought about what I would say if I came across him on the streets of NYC, but I still don’t know what it is – it would depend on the circumstances – or what he would find intriguing enough to publish.
Some statistics now. Facebook is the most represented and the most frequented platform, even though he’s on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, as well.
– over 6.5 million fans on Facebook (Started: Jan-2011; 1 million in Aug-2013; 3 million in Feb-2014)
– 100K on Twitter
– coming up on 1 million on Instagram
– publishes about 4 posts per day
– average likes per post: ~130K (lately, as the audience grows)
– the highest amount of likes, for a single photograph, ever – as far as I can see – 550K (only 13%!)
– average number of comments per post: 3000
– average ‘shares’ per post: 2500
–> Where’s the rest of that massive crowd of followers? Most of us just consume the content, without choosing to engage (by liking, commenting or sharing), though that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t leave an impact. Many have invited or suggested the page to their friends, have chipped in for crowdfunding, or bought the book but choose not to, or simply don’t have time to share an opinion on the matter. The book – which stood on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list – is ok.. it contains photos mostly from the first year and a half, and therefore less stories, that spice (scroll backward through his photo stream and you’ll FEEL the progress). I really fell in the love with the project once the revelatory storytelling came. ~
A few more favourites.
(FROM THE BOOK) When I walked by she was really moving to the music – hands up, head nodding, shoulders swinging. I really wanted to take her photo, so I walked up to the nearest adult and asked “Does she belong to you?” Suddenly the music stopped, and I heard: “I belong to myself!”