Life Lessons from Humans of New York


Photo courtesy of

Laurel Scott, Editor-in-Chief

In the past week, I have sunk countless hours into the website Humans of New York. One of the most popular photoblogs in the world, Humans of New York – or HONY – is run by a man named Brandon Stanton, who walks the streets of New York City every day, and has taken over six thousand photos of complete strangers. These people are not famous or special in any way, but that is what makes HONY so unique. You might not find any celebrities or newsworthy photos, but you will get interesting, entertaining, and often very powerful glimpses into the lives of authentic, genuine people.

Recently, Brandon Stanton gave a TED talk where he talked about the reasons why he started this photoblog. He described his days as a photojournalist, and gave his audience some insight into what kinds of photos news photographers try to take. If you have seen a well-known photo in the news of a grief-stricken woman at the 9-11 memorial, standing somber and beautiful in silent reflection, Brandon Stanton can promise you that this woman was in reality surrounded by an absolute circus of photographers. While she paid her respects to the victims of 9-11, there were dozens of flashbulbs going off in her face, and a mad crush of photojournalists pushing for the best position to take a picture of her. The reason for this is simple: Photographers and journalists focus on the people and the stories that stand out. That’s just good business.

Brandon Stanton explains that the news we hear everyday is usually a reflection of what we find interesting, instead of a reflection of reality. Gruesome crimes and sensational stories make the headlines on a daily basis. When we hear about protests or demonstrations, we see pictures of the half-dozen people throwing Molotov cocktails, instead of the ten thousand people who protest nonviolently. When we turn on the news, we see stories about robberies, murders and gang violence, instead of the old woman down the street who spends her days volunteering at a homeless shelter.

Being flooded by these “images of extremes” is changing our perception of the real world around us. Because all we see are stories of violence, danger, and conflict in the news, we think that this conflict happens much more often than it actually does. We are becoming what Brandon Stanton calls a “culture of extremes,” and we believe that the world is a dark and dangerous place because of it. But I happily spend hours spelunking through Humans of New York for the same reason that feel-good sites like Upworthy are everywhere on social media: without even realizing it, we are tired of all the conflict and sensationalism that we see in the media. HONY shows us another side of life, one which we almost never see in the news. It gives us a glimpse into the lives of normal people who are just like us.

These stories might not make the news, but they are every bit as important. HONY has a photograph of an old woman, with a caption of her retelling the advice her dying husband gave her when she said she couldn’t live without him: “Take the love you have for me, and spread it around.” There is a photo of a four-year-old girl running down the sidewalk in New York, collecting rocks in an orange basket. There is a teenage boy who seized the opportunity to ask a girl out on a date in the caption when his photo was taken. These stories don’t show up in the news, but I think they should. I think HONY is a glimpse of what journalism could be in the future: the business of telling people’s stories. Of course we need to know about the life-changing events that happen in the news every day. But I believe that we also need to know about the lives of people all over the world, no matter how insignificant they seem to be. We need to make a human connection. We need to be reminded that the world isn’t as bad as the media often portrays it to be. It is my hope that Humans of New York may very well end up being the future of journalism.