The moment you open the website of Humans of New York, you are surrounded by infinite number of unfamiliar yet familiar faces. How so? Brandon Stanton, the man behind HONY, approaches strangers and asks them simple questions about their life – “What’s been your greatest accomplishment?” “What was the happiest moment of your life?” It is in these answers that you find familiarity. The moments of happiness, the times of struggle, the stories of friendship and love – they all are familiar to every person in one way or another. Every entry gives just a little glimpse into a person’s life, but in that single moment you connect with that person and his/her story become yours.
As someone who has been infatuated with New York for as long as I have, the website had a great effect on me. In the beginning, I loved reading about the stories of these people and their lives in New York City. I always imagined New York as a wonderland, and these stories confirmed my belief in some ways. The people photographed vary from ordinary girl next door to a man dressed in rainbow colored pants. There are people from all circles of life – rich or poor, old or young – and even animals. It shows the diversity of the city where people come from all over the globe. However, with time I realized that it’s not about the city but about the people. Yes, it might be true that the diversity present in New York is one of a kind, but the stories remain the same all around the world. When I began following the blog, it was simply a way of understanding the city that I was going to live someday in the future better. But today, it is so much more and bigger than that. I see bits of myself in these stories, I see my friends and family in these stories and I learn something new about myself and about the world every day.
The stories, however, also shows you the dark side of USA. In one of the entries, a man is pictured sitting on a wheelchair and he says “Being disabled in America is like living in a third world country.” In another instance a Sikh man says “Even if we work hard to be a teacher, or a lawyer, or a doctor, we are first seen as outsiders.” A number of stories talk about how people got involved in the business of selling drugs and guns and how it destroyed their family and their own life. One also finds stories of people losing loved ones on the account of mass shootings, which has been a common occurrence in USA from past few years. The author, in his own little ways, tries to bring out such issues and grievances of people, knowingly or unknowingly. You realize that no city or country is perfect and as always, there are two sides to a coin.
As HONY grew in popularity, a number of such new Facebook pages came into existence – Humans of India, Humans of Bangalore, and Humans of Regina and few others. I am in no way trying to degrade or pass a judgement, but I could not connect with the stories or to put it in better words, I did not feel the same passion for the stories as I did in the case of HONY. Each photographer and a storyteller has his/her own way of presenting their thoughts and opinions, and so I agree that the people behind these pages did what they did with full dedication and passion and put forward the stories to their truest form. One might say that I am being partial towards HONY because of my love for the city, and while that is true to a very great extent, it is not the full picture. The way Brandon Stanton photographs these people is heart-warming. He does not always click smiling or happy faces. Instead, he shows the truth and truth alone. You can see the emotions these people are feeling in their eyes, the way they fold their hands, the way they remember a memory from the past, and simply by being themselves.
“When birds look into houses, what impossible worlds they see.”