Monday, November 18, 2013


Who are the people in your city?
What images best show their character, their resilience, their passions, their fears?

What are their stories?

Brandon Stanton set our to answer these questions.
In photography.

More than three years, several thousand miles, and some ten thousand portraits later, he has created --is creating-- an amazing visual census, a photographic directory of the people of New York. He tells us how it began:

 I arrived in New York in early August.  I planned to spend a week in the city before hopping on a plane for the West Coast, but I ended up staying for the rest of the summer.  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 "Humans of New York."

A friend sent me a link to Stanton's amazing blog about 6 months ago.
I was hooked immediately.

Each day the photos he presents enlarge my conceptual image of people, expand my vision of our world, and stretch my view of the  human spirit---- and entertain and delight my senses..

You can see his compelling photographs on  his Facebook Page and his comprehensive Website.

In addition to simply photographing, Stanton also began to interview his subjects and pair his photos with a story or quotation.

His work became an instant hit. Hundreds, thousands of new fans began to follow his blog.

He now views this project not as an album to complete, but an ongoing endeavor to provide his fans with several amazing portraits each day.

This file has now become a book, Humans of New York,  offering 400 color photographs from this file.

Yes, I am hooked.
But why?

I began to consider what it is about Stanton's photographs and  accompanying quotes and stories that prove so fascinating.

First the composition and artistry of  his images are compelling, thought-provoking, and often startling.
We simply cannot look away.  We continue to consider and ponder the images long after we  have turned the page, scrolled to the next post, or closed the book.

The images haunt us, grab us, inhabit us.

 In addition, while presenting Everyman and Everywoman, at the same time we are transported to another dimension of human life, one just beyond our own,  where the people are bigger than life.

And finally, aren't we all voyeurs at heart?
Most writers are.
I am.

I am hooked.

As I browsed the images in Humans of New York, I remembered another book--the first book of photographs which fascinated me in the same way.  I ran to my basement and found my tattered copy of The Family Of Man .

This volume, published in 1955, includes over 500 black and white photographs from 68 countries.  People from all walks and corners and curves of our world.  It is tattered and falling apart because it was much loved by my students over the years. They pored over the images of people it contains-- strangers, yet somehow familiar in their shared humanity.

And for those who want more photographs of people, as well as creative and technical strategies, a new book that features the iconic images  by Gregory Heisler was published last month.  His controversial portrait of George W.H. Bush  cost him his White House clearance.   His images have  graced the covers of most mainstream journals.  You have seen his photographs even if you don't know his name.

In his new book,Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer's Photographer, he shared the story behind each image,  his thought processes, and some of the techniques utilized.

What images represent the people you met today?
What images represent the people you meet everyday?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a photograph of a stranger.
You may choose your photo from one of the books above or from a magazine or online source.

You may also choose to  follow Brandon Stanton's  lead and photograph a stranger or two in your own city.  (Please don't forget to ask permission first.)  If possible you may also want to interview the person.

Create a written portrait to accompany the image of the person  in your photo.

You may want to present your portrait in a poem or essay.
It may simply be a reflective description of what you observe and feel about the image you chosen.

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