HONY – Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York

Brandon Stanton’s HONY project is not like a conventional photo essay, but I thought we could take a look at it and find elements that could apply to our own photo essay projects.

Take a look at his Humans of New York website, seeing which photographs or series stand out to you.

Also, here are a couple of resources to learn the backstory of this photographer, his ideas and his project:

1 – Short video about Brandon Stanton the creator of Humans of New York by Mashable.  He is looking for the story!

2 – an audio interview with Brandon Stanton on National Public Radio, “A Photographic Census of the City.”

What do you think you might apply from Stanton’s approach to taking your own photographs of people? Why?


photo credit: courtesy of St Martin’s Press (via NPR’s website)

Tips from Brandon on taking street portraits (from the CityLab link on his “about” page):

First of all, accept that some people will say “no.” A few people may even act offended that you asked. This has nothing to do with you, or what you are doing. Do not let these people make you feel rude. Do not let these people make you feel weird. There is nothing wrong with politely asking another person for their photograph. Most people will be honored.

Accept that you are going to be nervous when you first begin stopping people. This is completely natural. You must keep asking until you are no longer nervous. This takes time. But it’s the most important step.

Because the most important part of asking for a stranger’s portrait is remaining completely calm. People tend to reflect each other’s emotions– so if you are nervous, your subject will be nervous….

Street photography is unpredictable. Your subjects will do unexpected things. Let these things happen. Don’t try to “control” every part of the photo. If a subject has an “idea” for a pose, I always jump on board. Let go. Some of my favorite portraits have come from the unexpected. Let chaos work for you….

Finally— talk to the person, but be natural. Don’t act like Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. Act like a human. Take a quick interest. Joke with them. Adding even the simplest quote to a photo can lend so much humanity to an image.

Looking ahead: If you like taking photos of people and talking with them, you may want to create a photo essay around this material.  Start taking photographs for your daily posts!  For exercise #2, you may choose to do People Of Michigan (POM) for your photo essay exercise.  (More on exercise #2 later! There will be a exercise #2 “page” posted soon to our site.)  Also, for your final photo essay project, you might be interested in doing a portrait series. Models of portrait photo essays include ones we looked at in our first class like the gun-carrying women of Texas, for example–or “What the World Eats.”


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