Worms of the Big Apple

a/Arts & Entertainment by

In case you haven’t caught the barrage of social media buzz about it yet, Humans of New York’ is an online photography blog made up entirely of portraits of people on New York City streets. The man behind the camera, Brandon Stanton, describes the blog as a “photographic census” of the city’s different neighbourhoods. He roams the streets, taking portraits of perfect strangers in their everyday passing moments, and, in effect, makes the mundane unique and beautiful through his lens.

Today, three years after kick-starting his project, Stanton has not only racked up more than 6,000 unique portraits, but also more than 1.5 million likes on Facebook, tens of thousands of comments per day, and, most recently, a book deal. In mid-October, when the hardcover version of Stanton’s work took to the shelves, its sales surpassed all expectations as it soared to the number one spot on the New York Times’ bestseller list after just one week.

The book, like the blog, is intelligently simple. Each crisp page features one to three photos, and most are supplemented by a caption that is either Stanton’s own, a single-phrase reaction to the photo, or a snippet from the conversation he had with the subject or subjects. These people act as characters in what seems to be an overarching narrative of the city itself.

Although we only get fragments of the “humans’’’ stories, many are profound. In some instances, the narrative has political overtones: one photo spans two pages, showing two men kissing as the sun sets under a Statue of Liberty backdrop. Another shows a young man saying, “In Korea, the culture is much more centred around doing what you’re told. Here, everyone wants to argue and discuss and figure things out together. But there’s a lot of pressure that comes with having that much freedom to make your own decisions.”

Each personal story buttresses the greater discourses in society and the political world.

The book features racial and religious minorities, immigrants, queer couples, single mothers, the elderly, the poor, the homeless, drag queens, and countless individuals from other marginalized groups.  Each person is given a voice, may it be moving, humorous, thought provoking, or intimate. Their photos are placed alongside those of the wealthy, white, and otherwise hegemonic individuals—all given the same amount of value and space on Stanton’s pages.

Aesthetically, the book is stunning. On a given page, the photos complement each other, often contrasting in colour, shape, and theme. From one perspective, the book is a fashion anthology, because it documents some of the best dressed in the city, inclusive of all socioeconomic levels. Stanton has included the fan favourites from the blog Today in microfashion…,  a recurring caption that accompanies photos of the cutest and most uniquely dressed children of the city. The print medium offers a more formal plane than its online counterpart; the blog offers free-form viewing style while the book has a stricter format, but the book’s well-designed pages make the transition from online to hard copy pay off.

Humans of New York highlights New Yorkers’ striking individuality and allows us to see how they all converge to operate as the powerful, humming, massive unit that is New York City. For all fans of the blog and those desiring a humanistic view of the United States’ most famous cosmopolitan city, Humans of New York comes highly recommended.