Humans of NY: How Our Curiosity Connects Us

The portrait on Instagram shows a young woman with long, dark hair and glasses looking away from the camera.

"I thought we had a close family until my grandmother died without leaving a will,” reads the caption below her photograph. 

It’s just one of thousands of images shot by Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton. We don’t know much about this young woman, but this snippet of a story tells us a lot about her and her family. 

Stanton began the HONY project in 2010 with the goal of photographing 10,000 New Yorkers. As he wandered the streets of NYC taking photos, he began asking his portrait subjects about their lives and recording their answers. He then posted the portraits along with a quotation from the interview online. 

Some of the stories are happy, quirky and inspiring, as couples recount how they met and a single mother proudly proclaims her child goes to Yale. Others are infuriating or upsetting, as the subjects admit to deceiving the ones they love or spending money they should give to their kids on drugs. 

Millions of people now view Stanton's photos and read his stories on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the HONY website. There’s a HONY book, too. 

Simple but powerful storytelling 

While I’m happy the project has seen so much success, that’s not why I like it. I like it for its raw but powerful storytelling. 

We all know New York City is crammed with millions of people and millions of stories. We could easily use Google to find data on the ethnic makeup of the city and the rates of child poverty. 

But statistics often fall flat when you're trying to have an impact. They rarely move us to action or force us to connect with each other. That’s what these kinds of stories do. 

Stanton doesn’t judge with his photos. He records, observes and gives others a platform to tell their own stories, instead of telling their stories for them. The project is about everyday people and based on the premise that everyone’s story matters. 

We rarely get the whole story of a person from HONY — there really isn’t space for that — but we learn something. It satisfies, at least for me, an innate curiosity we have about other people. 

What do they struggle with? What are they most proud of? What do they regret the most? 

I liked the project even more when Stanton left New York and travelled to Iran. Most of the portraits he shot and interviews he did proved what we all know is true, but tend to forget: that we are all the same. 

No matter where we are in the world, we care about family, safety, fashion and food. 

If you haven’t checked out HONY yet, do it now. You stand to learn a lot about simple storytelling. (Photo source).