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Photographer on mission to snap Humans of New York

From elderly couples to kids with moves, Brandon Stanton has discovered much about the people inhabiting the greatest city in the world.

Image: Brandon Stanton via Humans of New York

NEW YORK IS famously photogenic, but photographer Brandon Stanton is not interested in the skyscrapers, bridges or famous yellow cabs. It is New Yorkers themselves he wants to capture – 10,000 of them.

Every day, the obsessive shutterbug goes out through Harlem, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx to snap another New York face. He is up to nearly 5,000.

The results go on the 27-year-old’s vibrant blog Humans of New York, a family album for America’s biggest city, with subjects ranging from streetwise youngsters to the homeless and fashionably dressed lovers.

There is a woman in white furs, an older man in a fake tiger-skin coat, a nun, a man in wizard costume, ballerinas posing over heating vents, and a Michael Jackson lookalike busking in the subway.

“I am going on a treasure hunt,” Stanton told AFP.

The photographer describes himself on his website as “really passionate about things”, which is something of an understatement.

The 10,000 pictures idea came up after he moved to New York from Chicago where he had just lost a job trading bonds on the Chicago Board of Trade. The fact he had no photography experience did not faze him.

“Mom wasn’t too happy about that decision, but so far it’s gone pretty well,” he writes.

After two years, Stanton has earned a big following, with nearly 650,000 Facebook fans.

His method is to walk, often for hours, in search of a striking image that he thinks will let him get through to the subject’s personality.

He always starts with a simple, “Hi, can I take a picture of you?” This then develops into more personal questions aimed at getting to know his latest New Yorker, which include things like “What was the happiest moment of your life?”

A few answers stick out in Stanton’s mind, among them an alcoholic homeless man who dreamt of going fishing and a young punk who said simply she wanted to be happy. A widow told him she still had a lot of love to give.

The first year of the project was difficult, he says, with only 3,000 online followers.

“We were very worried for him, but he kept going,” his friend Samuel Ward said. “When he begins something, he is very into it, very focused.”

When Stanton’s blog caught on, the nature of the idea changed. “At the beginning it was about my work. Now it is more about the phenomenon which brings people,” he said.

He’s even stopped focusing on the idea of trying to reach a specific number of photos: he has bigger responsibilities.

“In two years, I’ve never had holidays. We could think that it is easy to be my own boss, but my actual boss is my 650,000 followers, for whom I have to update pictures every day. It can be very stressful,” he said.

Even New York is no longer big enough for the Humans project.

In December Stanton travelled to Iran to do the same thing. He now has 20,000 Iranian followers on his blog.

“My perspective now is to go everywhere,” he said.

He is also preparing a HONY book which is due to be published in October. It will contain 400 images, stories and captions.

Inspired by Stanton, other photographers are already starting to do the same kind of photographic catalogue of their cities. There are imitation projects like Humans of Paris, Humans of Beirut, Humans of Buenos Aires and Humans of Karachi on Facebook.

“It is great, but I prefer to be focused on my work, without caring about them,” Stanton said.

Here is a sample of some of Stanton’s most recent work, as displayed on Facebook.

“These two were dominating the northern sidewalk of 14th Street at about 5.30pm (10 April).”

“If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?”
“Be in love.”
“How many times have you been in love?”
“Once.”

And then he walked away.

“He likes turtles.”

“Saved By The Bell, The Remix”

“Are you dating or just friends?”
“That’s a good question, actually.”

“I want to draw cartoons.”

“Put me on the internet! Even on The Google!”

Spotted on 79th Street

“I’m trying to get back into porn.”

“I asked if he had any moves.”

“I like computers.”

“Somebody didn’t want Mom’s help.”

“Swagblast”

“What’s your greatest struggle right now?”

“Probably just the struggles of the community: illiteracy, early pregnancy, black-on-black violence…”

After I took her photo, she stuck her cheek out for a kiss. After I gave her one, she said: “Isn’t love great?”

“Yes it is,” I replied. Then she leaned in and said: ”But sex is better.”

Seen on the Lower East Side.

“Spring Cleaning”

“What do you miss most about Puerto Rico?”

“My mother.”

Seen in Washington Square Park

The Secret (that’s a Victoria Secret’s shopping bag)

“Hide your wives.”

“They didn’t know each other, but I thought they should.”

“The photo will go up on my website tomorrow.”

Woman: “Oh, wonderful!”

Man: “Oh Jesus.”

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