• Fine Print: Humans of New York

    Brandon Stanton, the man behind the Humans of New York Tumblr and book, is living proof that sometimes (just sometimes) getting canned is the best thing that can happen to a person. After getting laid off from his finance job several years ago, Brandon decided to move to New York to take photographs of strangers, and thus the incredibly moving Humans of New York blog was born.
    Interview by Katie Gregory; Photos by Brandon Stanton

    Hi Brandon! How are you doing?
    I'm great! I'm sitting in the sunshine and feeling pretty good right now.

    Are you currently in New York?
    I am. It was freezing yesterday, but it's a little bit warmer today.

    I saw that your book has been selling out like crazy everywhere and you had to actually make more books to fill the demand...
    [Laughs] Yeah, it's been doing really well! It's very exciting.

    Were the people in the book shot specifically for the book, or were they just a part of your ongoing series?
    No, they were part of my ongoing project. I've taken over 5,000 portraits and the main focus is the blog. I post about 5 or 6 of these portraits on the blog every day, and conduct little interviews. I've been maintaining the blog for 2 and a half years now, and have over 2 million followers on social media, so my main concern is gathering content for the audience. The book was kind of a highlight reel of that with some new material.

    Were you surprised by the demand for the book?
    I was surprised, not extremely surprised, because it was definitely more than I expected, but at the time that the book was published, I already had a lot of fans on social media, so I knew that there was a large audience. Every time I raise money for charity on HONY the audience has been very, very engaged, so I anticipated that the book would sell well, but this well I didn't expect.

    How do you decide who to approach for your shots?
    You know, I try to keep that pretty vague, even to myself. I try not to look for anything in particular. New York is very diverse and I want the diversity to be represented on the blog. I just try to keep an open mind and approach people randomly and find out what I can about them.

    Has anyone ever been openly hostile after you've approached them for a photograph?
    I'll tell you, when I first started I was doing a lot of candid photography and I would not ask, and really the most negative reactions came when I did not ask someone and they kind of just saw me photographing them. Now that I've started asking all the time, some people can still be kind of rude, but I don't think that anyone's ever been hostile.

    Do you keep in touch with any of the people that you've photographed?
    I'm very hard-working, so I don't socialize a ton outside my very small group of friends, and I would say I've definitely developed some acquaintances out of people I've photographed, but there have been so many people that it's hard to start close friendships with a significant amount of them.

    Do you have any tips for someone just starting out in photography, the way you did?
    My tip is to just do it as much as possible! These digital cameras allow you to take, literally, thousands of photographs every single day. When I first started out, not only was I taking photographs of everything that interested me, but I was photographing everything like twenty times from different angles. Just that repetition and doing it over and over again gave me a feel for what looks nice and what my aesthetic is. I just taught myself through that process and by making thousands of mistakes and thousands of tiny corrections.

    And I saw that last year you tried to match people up for holiday dinners...
    That's funny you mention it, because I was going to put something up on that a little bit later this week! My girlfriend usually coordinates that and she's really been bugging me to do it. It worked out well last year. We matched up about thirty people, and our audience was about 10% of the size it is now, so I think it'll probably be a lot bigger this year. We're excited to see.

    Shop Humans of New York book