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Jan 26 2016

Review: Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton

Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton is the third in the Humans of New York series.  Preceded by Humans of New York and Little Humans, Humans of New York: Stories was born out of Brandon’s experiences in creating the first book.

The first book in the Humans of New York series is primarily a photographic essay.  Brandon purchased his first camera six months before losing his job as a bond trader.  A weekend trip to New York inspired Brandon with its vast array of eclectic and vibrant residents.  Brandon’s original plan for his blog was to create a map with ten thousand photographs of New Yorkers plotted across it.  Eventually, he begin adding short quotes and captions to the photos.  This new format rapidly increased the site’s popularity and out of this came the first Humans of New York book.

The original book is almost entirely visual.  Stories and captions are sparse, save for a simple location reveal or simple information describing the photo.  This allows the photos to stand on their own giving the reader an opportunity to bring their own interpretation to the scene.

As Brandon collected photos for the first book, he found the camera served as a conduit for people to open up and tell him their stories.  From this, Brandon decided the world would benefit from the sharing of these stories, so he came up with Humans of New York: Stories.

In Humans of New York: Stories the reader is treated to the same concept of the original book, but this time with the something extra.  Instead of spartan captions or mere location tags, the new book is filled with accompanying text.

From small children to the most wizened of adults, no person is deemed as less or more, nor is anyone portrayed as more important than the others.

Many of the stories are whimsical such as the little girl of about three who gleefully exclaims “You’re taking my picture!”  Next there is the small boy, perhaps 5 or 6 in age, who profoundly describes how he wants to build bridges in Wisconsin because he feels as if there are a lot of people in Wisconsin who don’t have bridges.  The wrinkle in his plan?  He’s not entirely certain where Wisconsin is.  A few pages later is the Sikh boy holding his infant brother who says his favorite aspect of his younger sibling is that “he’s cute.”

Some of the stories are more inspirational in tone.  There is the 20 something year old woman in a wheelchair who wants to become a diplomat in order to make life in China easier for people with disabilities.  She reveals that she lived in a Chinese orphanage until she was 10 and was unable to attend school because she couldn’t walk.  At the end of her story the reader discovers that she has begun with first step with an acceptance to the London School of Economics.

The book is also a study of contrasts.  Across the page from the aspiring diplomat is a middle aged man who states that he served ten years in prison.  When questioned why he responds “…Organized crime.  Allegedly.”  In the span of five short sentences, one gets the distinct impression that even though this man is currently anonymous his face will one day be plastered on the news.

In fact, in the original Humans of New York, Brandon reveals that one couple he photographed later became a national headline after a cache of explosives was discovered in their apartment.

Nothing is off limits in Humans of New York: Stories and Brandon delves into a considerable range of topics.

There are the two teenagers who don’t seem to know yet if they are friends or something more.  There is the elderly couple who cannot agree whether this is their 61st or 62nd anniversary.  Sandwiched in the middle of this mini-essay is the young couple whose nervousness is evident as they reveal they are on their first date.

Many of the stories are poignant reminders of the fact that circumstance and life can change practically on a dime.

This is best highlighted with a three page spread of a young man who talks about how he and his wife were at dinner soon before her due date of their first child.  While enjoying their meal they received a phone call that they needed to get to the hospital quickly as Marwa’s (the soon to be mother) platelet count was low.  At the hospital they are assured that things will be fine, but a a few days later the man finds himself a widower with a newborn baby.  While he describes meeting her as evoking a “finally home” feeling, losing her creates an emptiness in him that he cannot imagine ever filling.

The stories continue on from cute and funny to serious and heart breaking.  The common theme throughout is that our stories connect us.

In keeping with that theme, Brandon has used the visibility his blog grants him to promote and fund humanitarian causes.

Recently he travelled to Pakistan and Iran to highlight stories of residents from those countries.  He also did a lengthy feature on the refugee crisis revealing harrowing tales of escape.

Through stories revealed readers of the HONY (Humans of New York) blog have helped numerous people.  From refugees feeling terrorist attack, to a woman in New York who fled an abusive situation with four children and was facing eviction.  Other fundraisers helped a man who lost his tractor in an accident and a Pakistani woman who also had left an abusive relationship with a young daughter and was in need of treatment for Hepatitis C.  Finally, HONY raised over 2 million dollars for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front.

There are few books with which to compare Humans of New York: Stories.  While there are a number of photo essay books, none touch on the human experience in the same manner.

Readers might find interest in life. love. beauty. by Keegan Allen.  Like Humans of New York: Stories, Allen intersperses story and caption with his photos.  life. love. beauty. however is more a personal photographic memoir as it centers around his career and the people he encounters within that setting.

Humans of New York: Stories is well deserving of its best seller status.  The stories pull the reader in causing them to love, laugh, and cry.  In short, Humans of New York: Stories strives to make the world a smaller, better place, and succeeds brilliantly.

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