A few months ago, my friend the South African photographer Anna Morris turned me on to a nifty FaceBook page, “Humans of New York.” The premise of the page was simple: a roving photographer (who I now know to be Brandon Stanton) wanders about the city taking shots of people—all sorts of people…young, old, black, white, yellow, brown, conventional, and unconventional, a “roving census” as described by Stanton. Accompanying the shots, which are always interesting to view, are poignant question for the featured individual. The questions range from “What is the most difficult thing you’ve endured in life,” to “If you could tell everyone something you know for sure, what would that be?” For kids, a standard question is “What would you like to be when you grow up?” In a day of mindless banter we encounter on the subway or waiting in the pharmacy checkout line, these responses are a refreshing alternative that include not only pearls of wisdom but streams of raw emotion, sometimes joyous, but often painful.
HONY has become a full-fledged phenomenon with more than a million followers, and the author has now penned a best-selling book with some of his most outstanding entries. In a recent New York Times article about him, the author makes note that the quality of the photos is not exceptional, but the truth-telling most surely is.
All of this reminded me of a much loved CBS News feature called “Everybody has a Story.” For six years (1998-2004), CBS correspondent Steve Hartman would feature a random person in some American town or city. A dart was thrown at a map of America. Hartman would then flip through the local phone directory and pick a name at random, spending two days learning about the house’s occupants, and their “story.” While the results were varied and unpredictable, it was a fun and gentle reminder that regardless of the “cover” every book has a story, and sometimes one that can teach us a lot. There are universal truths uniting so many of us, and unusual life experiences that can be instructive for all. HONY is, it seems, a similar venture for the social media age. It’s good to be reminded of our common humanity. Enjoy just a sampling of Stanton’s delicious work.
“I’ve been out of rehab for three months.”
“Was it your first time?”
“What caused you to finally get help?”
“It had literally become a matter of life and death. I’d been to the emergency room a couple of times. Plus drinking had completely ruined my marriage.”
“Drinking made me really shady. I wasn’t even communicating with my wife anymore. I’d go to work for 15 hours, come home, drink, and go to bed. It’s like we weren’t even in a relationship– we were just roommates.”