Humans of New York street photography gains popularity, Univ. alumnus plans for future of blog

Humans of New York is a blog created by University alumnus Brandon Stanton. Courtesy Brandon Stanton

After he lost his job, Brandon Stanton decided to take photos.

Now he has created thousands of photographs and found even more fans.

Stanton, a University alumnus, is the photographer behind the blog Humans of New York, or HONY for short. The project has over 64,000 fans on Facebook and includes almost 4,000 street portraits of people in New York.

Stanton began taking photos while he had a job trading bonds in Chicago. Stanton said at that time, he mainly took photos on the weekends, but after losing his job in Chicago, he decided to travel a bit and continue shooting. Though many his photos started off as landscapes, by the time Stanton reached New York, he focused on street portraits.

“I determined that the photos I was getting that were most compelling came from taking portraits of people in the street,” Stanton said. “I got to New York and determined that if I was going to do street portraits, this would be the place to do it.”

While he began his project with the idea of taking pictures in many different cities, Stanton said he does not need to change location because of the diversity found in New York. Also, he said about 25 similar “Humans of…” projects have cropped up in cities around the world, thereby making travel not as necessary.

“New York is such a large city and such a diverse city that I can spend my whole life here and not exhaust all of the subject matter,” Stanton said. “As opposed to trying to start managing some sort of similar project for the rest of the world, I’m just content to inspire an example in others.”

Stanton said in addition to New York’s wide range of people, he maintains variety in the street portraits by not having set criteria for who he photographs. Sometimes he sees color which attracts him; other times it's eccentricity. But most of the time Stanton photographs everyday people.

Christina Cotsakis, a freshman romance languages and business major from Alpharetta, Ga. said she enjoys HONY because it allows her to see the daily lives of different people.

“I like Humans of New York because I feel like it appeals to people’s secret love of people watching without being creepy,” Cotsakis said.

Stanton said he takes photographs everyday for around three hours. During that time, he will normally cover about six or seven miles to find a variety of people. The rest of the day, Stanton works on administering the HONY blog, answering e-mails and doing interviews.

As for the future of HONY, Stanton said he has reached a point where he needs to modify the project in regard to funding and reaching the audience. But even as Stanton thinks about monetizing his project, he said he hopes to avoid making it too commercial while still allowing it to develop.

“At this point, I’ve got over 50,000 people looking at the photos every single day, so I could probably raise money pretty unobtrusively through a print sale or something like that,” Stanton said. “I’m currently weighing my options, and I’m optimistic that I can raise enough money to continue doing this without over-commercializing the project, which I’m really worried about doing.”

Commercialization of HONY worries Stanton because he believes it could negatively affect the energy of the project.

“[Humans of New York] has this energy behind it. People are very passionate about it,” Stanton said. “I think a lot of that passion stems from the idea of somebody stopping random people on the street and documenting them out of a respect for their humanity and an interest in them. When you bring money into anything, it dilutes that energy, and I want to be very careful.”

Dave Adams, a senior public relations major from Kennesaw, Ga., said he enjoys Humans of New York because of the emphasis on the person rather than artistic composition.

“I like the fact that it’s not so much focused on the composition of the photos as much as it is portraying the person raw,” Adams said. “It’s really about the person…that’s what I like about it, it kind of lives up to its name.”

Stanton said he does not see HONY as a stepping stone to any sort of larger plans, but he does believe there will be books and other extensions of it. He also hopes to continue growing his audience and improving his photography.

Even though Stanton lives cheaply now — mainly off of savings from his previous job — he said he does not look toward HONY as a significant source of income.

“I’ve found what I love to do. It would be hard for me to enjoy my life more than I do right now,” Stanton said. “I’ve always said I don’t want HONY to be a means for me to achieve a certain lifestyle. I want it to be lifestyle in itself.”