I just picked up this brand new coffee table portrait collection at the library.
Humans of New York is a 6 year old project of New York photographer Brandon Stanton. He takes people’s pictures. The ordinary folk of New York City, where he lives. It began as a kind of census-taking. In images. He’d just moved to the city, so I can see it as a way to make the people-watching more meaningful, a kind of practice.
But the just-fired bond trader, who had only picked up a camera 6 months before, had a bigger goal. He wanted to “create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants and lot their photos on a map.” He spent a few months trying to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.
He photographed every single day.
Somewhere along the way, the photo inventory took on an extra layer. He started collecting quotes and short stories from the photo subjects and including them alongside the photographs.
He posted them on a tumblr that soon had millions of followers. His first book was published in 2013.
A catalogue of the human zoo, of that teeming city where people go with such big dreams, Humans of New York: Stories is a chest-opening heartbreaking collection. There are so few love stories! So many people are struggling. So many are lonely. So many have the same dreams and desires. The quest to feel worthy of love and belonging, as the great Brene Brown says, goes on. And on. And on.
Reading through helps cast your own life into perspective – the fortunes and misfortunes, the joy of living in a small community. Stanton talks to anyone and everyone, so you also get to confront your prejudices about people’s appearances. And the range of subjects means any reader will find something that resonates for them, some person who really speaks right to their heart, someone whose picture they just want to rip out of the book. It’s fascinating for that.
I loved having it on my coffee table for a week, just flicking through it in front of the fire, as the day was winding down.
I follow the intagram feed. (Me and 4.8 million other people.) (It’s on Facebook, too.) Because, for all the heartbreak, it’s so good to keep on listening to each other. Because I love seeing the outcome of an artist’s daily practice. I love getting a hint of the questions he asks, to solicit these amazing and intimate stories from people. And because Compassion Practice is something we can all devote 5 minutes a day to.
Hey stranger, what’s your story?