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Humans of New York Hardcover – October 15, 2013
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The Top 5 Humans of New York
Brandon Stanton's thousands of not-quite-candid street portraits of New Yorkers (and accompanying captions, usually from the subjects themselves) have made his Humans of New York blog both poignant and extremely popular--as well as garnering him recognition as one of Time magazine's "30 People Under 30 Changing the World." This book of the same title collects 400 of his best portraits, telling small stories that are outsized in their humor, candor, and humanity. It was also our number one pick for the best books of the year in Photography.
Here are Stanton's own top five favorite images, accompanied by his own words. Click on the images to see larger versions, and learn more about Humans of New York. It also makes a wonderful gift for any of the humans in your life.
-- Jon Foro
1) Ironically, some of the best quotes come from the people who have the least amount of time to talk to me. She told me: "I can't talk, because these shadows are changing every second." Normally I'm a bit downtrodden if I'm unable to interview a subject, but I thought her 'brush-off' was the perfect complement to the photo.
2) I always cite this photo as representing the most emotional interaction that I've ever had on the street. I came across this 100 year old woman just south of Central Park. She was walking in a rainstorm with a very bright umbrella. After I took her photo, I got under the umbrella with her, and asked her for one piece of advice. She said: "I'll tell you what my husband told me when he was dying. I asked him: 'Mo, how am I supposed to live without you?' And he told me: 'Take the love you have for me and spread it around.'"
3) I was walking through Chelsea one morning when I noticed someone rolling around in the middle of the street. Of course I started running toward the scene, and when I arrived, I found this drag queen. Apparently she had been performing a song at a nearby bar, and at the climax of her performance, ran into the street and threw her tips into the air. I joke that this photo captures more elements of New York than any other I've taken.
4) I love this photo because of the variety of expressions that I managed to capture. I found these kids in the Lower East Side, making the most of a hot summer day. Right before I took the photo, one of the kids leaned a little too far forwards and started spilling water from the pool. This created a variety of different responses from his fellow swimmers.
5) The young boy seemed so unwilling to participate in the portrait, that at first it seemed like a photo would be impossible. But his shyness ended up coming through beautifully, creating a portrait of the relationship between mother and son.
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But New York City is really about one other thing: people.
Photographer Brandon Stanton has captured this in Humans of New York, his debut book... and it has skyrocketed on the various book charts since its publication in October 2013, and for good reason. Based on his HONY blog, which now has over two million followers and fans, this book is a visual delight of about 400 photos of the people that he has encountered in his travels across the five boroughs that make up New York City. His people images make a gorgeous, sometimes funny, truly genuine, and often moving compilation of photos that capture the spirit of the city through its diverse people in often inspiring ways.
Brandon Stanton did not start his career with the goal of becoming a photographer, as he explains in the introduction of this book. He noted that while working as a bond trader in Chicago, he spent his weekends with a camera that he had acquired in 2010, and that photography "felt like a treasure hunt." After losing his job as a trader, he traveled to various American cities, but his first impressions of NYC were unforgettable, as he notes in the intro:
"I remember the moment my bus emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel and I saw the city for the first time. The sidewalks were covered with people. The buildings were impressive, but what struck me most were the people. There were tons of them. And they all seemed to be in a hurry. That night, I created a photo album for my New York photos. I called it `People of New York.'"
From that simple beginning, the rest became photographic history; from his early attempts at a Web page, he discovered social media in the form of Facebook and Tumbler. Fans of his images reacted, and soon became regular followers. At first it was hundreds, then thousands, and zooming forwards to today, his Facebook page has over two million loyal followers, and hundreds commenting on his images daily, with many of those sharing his people photos to their own pages. Each of these is a capsule of a moment in time.
On these pages we see everyday people as encountered by many of us on the New York streets; subway images, people in Central Park, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, by the Strand Book Store in Downtown Manhattan, at the Brooklyn Museum and at Manhattan's iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art. We see a young well-dressed girl in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, a well-dressed older woman at the Waldorf-Astoria, people carrying boxes of pizza as gifts for the firefighters (the owner refused payment), people at Union Square on 14th Street, and a Marine recruiter in uniform on the street in Downtown Manhattan. Some are camera shy, while others are striking a pose.
And there are some that stand out, strikingly so. We see the full-page view of the model in her black and white striped evening gown at Lincoln Center, the chess players at Washington Square Park, people with their pets, the Sikh gentleman whose gentle smile is hidden behind his iconic mustache and beard, and the two page image of two ballet students captured in a lunchtime pose, standing in front of a steam grate in Tribeca. It is this same image that has served as the iconic avatar on HONY's Facebook page.
There are people at play, at work, sleeping on benches in parks, dancing, eating, kissing, hugging, and frolicking in the water gushing from fire hydrants. We find people of all ethnic backgrounds, and of all ages, from teenagers to folks in their nineties, to children. There are many superb images of children here, and they must captivate Stanton, as it is said that he will be publishing a children's book, "Little Humans" in 2014.
There are captions, though they are limited and to the point. Maybe because Stanton is upbeat and not condescending, so his captions never stereotype, even when he photographs people that close-minded individuals might think of as "sketchy" or strange. His book radiates his own natural curiosity, along with diversity, appreciation and respect for the people that he photographs. For open-minded people watchers, this book is a treasure.
It's difficult to classify this as a traditional coffee table photo book, if just by size alone. My copy is 304-page hardcover first edition printed in the U.S. and published by St. Martin's Press on October 15th, 2013. It measures 9.2 x 7.3 x 1 inches, which is hardly a coffee table book like another favorite, The New York Times Magazine Photographs by Kathleen Ryan. That Aperture edition measures 12.2 x 10.5 x 1.8 inches, a good bit larger.
On a personal basis, I rank Brandon Stanton's book right up there with Robert Frank's The Americans, a powerful book in post-WWII American photography. First published in 1959, his black and white photos were remarkable for their distanced view of both high and low strata of American society of the time. In contrast to Stanton's book, there is an element of sadness, even despair, in some of the images, but there is joy as well.
To many, New Yorkers are standoffish, cold and impersonal. For those of us who have spent time on the streets here, this is generally not so, and as a relative newcomer to the city, Brandon Stanton has proven that to be a myth. I am reminded of this quote that was written down when it was passed on by a friend:
"My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they're misunderstood. I don't think people realize how kind New York people are."
~ Bill Murray, Moviefone interview, April 27th, 2010
What makes Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York so different is that it is not about high-profile celebrities. It features people who aren't normally documented, who one might find anywhere on the New York streets if one just looks. It's a book that I have already gifted to some special friends, ones who also enjoy real people in everyday settings. It's not just a personal favorite, but one that may well go down in books of NYC street photography as a landmark chronicle of this era. Time will tell.
JW ▪ 1/2/2014
I came across Humans of New York on Facebook, and soon looked forward every day to each new post and photo. I love the page so much, I was so excited to see there was a book as well! I ordered it right away and when it came I sat down (intending to just look over a few pages since I had a lot to do that day) and before I knew it two hours had passed and I had read the entire book! I literally could not put it down.
It will make you laugh, cry, and pick your jaw off the floor. It makes you think of people in a way you haven't in a long time, to realize that each and every stranger you pass has a story. Hopes, dream, heartbreaks and triumphs. We too often get stuck in our own little world, and forget that we are not the only ones going through stuff. This book reminds you of that, and it does it beautifully with gorgeous text and stunning photography.
The cover is beautiful, it is PERFECT to display as a coffee table book that will capture everyone who picks it up. I can't wait for Brandon Stanton to publish more books, I am going to buy every one. Very highly recommend, one of the best books I've ever bought.
There are too many “models” to mention, so I’m spotlighting three that I especially like. (1) There’s the elderly lady with soft silver hair and a beautiful smile whose caption says, “Every time I force myself to go outside, something wonderful happens.” Great advice! (2) And I love the red shirted man named Bala. He's lying on his side in his picture, his long gray beard and hair framing his face. The man’s name is Lawrence, and his deceased wife’s name was Barbara. He called her Ba, and she called him La. After her death, he changed his name to Bala. (3) And then there’s Gac Filipaj, a refugee from Yugoslavia who’s decked out in his graduation regalia for his photograph. After 12 years of working as a janitor at Columbia University until 11:00 p.m. each night, he earned a classics degree.
If you love pictures and the stories they tell, you’ll relish this book. After looking at it, you’ll know for certain that there are no uninteresting people and that Stanton is a gifted photographer who’s found his niche.
Top international reviews
At the end of the day, buy it.... You'll love it!
I smiled all the way through and read it in one sitting. Majestic stuff.