Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I have been fascinated by the Humans of New York (HONY) project since its inception in 2010, as documented in my previous post: Humans of New York: a Photographic Census.  

There is a new book with expanded stories to accompany images. And now even little ones can join in the HONY project with the recent picture book.

I continue to be drawn to the images and accompanying quotes and stories as Brandon Stanton travels  our world, providing us with faces to illuminate the complex  news stories bombarding us from every direction.

I continue to be provoked to deeper thought about current events and issues as I read brief stories of individuals who are involved, immersed, or impacted  by these same events and issues.

Most recently he has shown us the divergent faces of Syrian refugees.

Not everyone is a fan, however.

Critics range from appreciating the fact that these photos and stories are not journalism, yet are able to take us beyond the headlines, to openly recognizing the pull on our heartstrings, to hard critics who judge them to be mere caricatures and stereotypes, sentimental and shallow.

In the Problem with Humans of New York, Daniel D'Addario voices his concerns about the decontextualized and stereotypical nature of the presentation:
In the world of Humans of New York, however, humans are actually caricatures. The people Stanton photographs are reduced to whatever decontextualized sentence or three he chooses to use along with their photo. And so the nattily dressed Klein, cigar in hand, lectures us about how we should all follow our dreams, while the woman whose photo was posted near his tells us that she wants things at work, where she's under the boss's thumb, done "my way." But both photographs and "stories," as Stanton calls them, even if they are a mere sentence, exist to fulfill stereotypes; the evidently rich fellow gets to brag about his achievements, the nonwhite woman gets to complain about her lot in life.

 Melissa Smyth, in Sentimentality: a Critique of Humans of New York attacks the curated lens of sentimentality through which we are invited to view these images:
Sentimentality offers an escape from the difficult conclusions that must come from honest scrutiny of social reality in the United States. In today’s media landscape, photographs most viscerally ferry this indolence, for the nature of the medium facilitates sentiment’s purpose: to obscure the operative social structures with cloying cases of the individual.... 
The problem with sentimentality here is not the infusion of emotion into a political issue; on the contrary, it is the funneling of emotion into mute forms, preventing the marriage of thought and feeling that produces the most concentrated social action.

In Humans of New York and the Cavilier Consumption of Others, Vinson Cunningham tackles the shallowness in intent and in ramifications of HONY when juxtaposed to photgraphic documentary projects of the past, as well as questioning our uncritical consumption of the images..
By comparison,  [ to the well-known work of  Jacob Riis, James Agee, Walker Evans, and Gordan Park] “Stories” betrays shallow notions of truth (achievable by dialogic cut-and-paste) and egalitarianism. Both come too easily. Instead of the difference acknowledged by Caldwell and Bourke-White’s You and Their, Stanton’s all-encompassing title implies a vague, flattening humanism, too quick to forget the barriers erected—even here, and now, in New York—against real equality...
The quick and cavalier consumption of others has something to do with Facebook, Humans of New York’s native and most comfortable medium. The humans in Stanton’s photos—just like the most photogenic and happy-seeming and apparently knowable humans in your timeline...

And then there are  the humorous parodies and mocking satires.  Is imitation always flattery or does it call us to look with a more critical eye? Are we to laugh or take a social stance?

Things worth appeciating or criticizing often become food for our humor.

Several websites mimic or mock HONY, including: Felines of New York and Millennials of New York.

Regardless of where we stand, however, on the concerns and cricitisms of HONY, we can't help but recognize its widespread reach and influence.

We can't look away from the images and we can't erase the lingering shadows of the images and thoughts long after we have left the site or closed the book.

Even our president looks in from time to time comments on stories that touch his heart, like a photo of a Iranian father and his son, or  a image of a principal and student from a Bronx school whom he later invited  to the White house.

Most recently, he has responded to a post about a Syrian refugee, welcoming him to Michigan and  the United States.

Humans of the New York

Humans of our World.

What is your response to this project, this phenomenom?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Visit the Humans of New York website and read  several articles about the project shared above.

Create a list of positive and negative aspects and features.

Write a review praising the site and project.

Write a second reviewthat is critical of the site and project.