He's the people's paparazzo: a photographer who gathers the stories and portraits of New Yorkers on the streets and subways, in playgrounds and shady alleyways, parading, dancing, or wading in wedding dresses at Brighton Beach.
Brandon Stanton, who founded the irresistible blog Humans of New York in the summer of 2010 as a "photographic census of the city," has since become an Internet celebrity, with more than 1.5 million followers on Facebook. This week, the 29-year-old Brooklynite released Humans of New York, a 304-page book derived from three years of work on his blog. Selections of his best urban portraiture are accompanied by profiles and interviews. New York personality abounds.
Stanton, who grew up in Atlanta and worked for three years as a bond trader in Chicago, treats New Yorkers as an exotic species, with plumage and markings unlike those of any other group of Homo sapiens. In his cast of more than 10,000 characters, there’s the green-haired granny with frog mittens and butterfly barrettes, the 5-year-old in a pilot costume, the mustachioed neuroscientist by day/burlesque performer by night, and the creepily convincing Michael Jackson impersonator.
Their brief interviews are often as powerful and entertaining as their portraits: "Good news!" says one portrait subject, "All remaining mysteries of the universe were solved yesterday afternoon." Other portraits range from the poignant to the tragic to the melodramatic: a group of cops next to a covered dead body; the homeless man who says his only dream is to go fishing; a guy, just out of jail, wearing tattered clothes that Stanton mistook for Fashion Week avant-garde.
Then there’s Wendell, dressed in wrapping paper and a tutu, who constantly screams "pay me, bitch" and laments that "the shuttle left Earth" without him. Stanton's photographs and his subjects’ quotes humanize the nameless herds of commuters who get in your way on the subway every day, revealing their personal tragedies and joys. HONY has inspired hundreds of copycat blogs the world over, including Humans of Dublin, Jerusalem, Rome, and Budapest.
The book is funny, dark, visually stunning, and often deeply moving, much like the city itself. Humans of New York, published by St. Martin's Press, is available here.
All photographs by Brandon Stanton.