Up close and personal with Humans of New York creator

Brandon Stanton, creator and photographer of immensely popular blog, Humans of New York, talks to Georgia State students about how he started his path, the lives he changed, and the overall meaning behind HONY. Photo by: Nadia Deljou

Senior reporter Miranda Hawkins sits down with Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton during his visit to Georgia State.
Brandon Stanton began Humans of New York (HONY) with no money, no job and only a dream. Five years later, his blog is an international sensation.

Stanton moved to New York City after losing his job trading bonds in Chicago. He said at first his job went really well. But after it went really bad, Stanton chose to pursue his passion.

The wildly popular HONY is known for pictures of everyday people with captions exploring what it means to be human. The stories range from deep and intimate to light-hearted and fun.

Stanton revealed his tactic for getting random strangers to talk to him on the street at different college lectures. He said he begins with a broad question, such as “What was the happiest moment of your life?” or “When were you most afraid?” and then delves deeper from there.

In this interview, I sculpted the questions to be similar to the ones Stanton asks his subjects. Needless to say, this was my attempt to HONY the creator of HONY.


Q. What has been the most pivotal moment of your life so far?

A. “The most pivotal moment of my – wow. Umm. That’s hard to say. It would have to be something along the path of Humans of New York. Probably the pivotal moment would be the moment that most moved me along that path. And so I am going to say the first time I took a photo of a person and looking in that viewfinder of my camera and feeling that was something unique and I wanted to do more of that. I would say that moment most affected the course of my life.”


Q. When was a time that you lost all hope?

A. “Lost all hope…If I lost all hope I wouldn’t be here. So there’s never – the closest that I’ve been – okay. I can tell you the hardest moment of Humans of New York was when I first moved to New York. I didn’t know anyone there. I knew like two kids there, okay. And I didn’t have any money. And nobody thought it was a good idea. My family was kind of dissapointed. My friends all thought I was crazy. I didn’t have any Facebook followers. I’d been working on this for several months and nobody was really paying attention. It just seemed like some crazy thing I was doing. And Christmas came around, and I didn’t have any money to go home. And everyone that was my age left New York to go home. And so yea. Christmastime the first year I was in New York was very, very, very, very lonely.”


Q. What was a moment you couldn’t stop laughing?

A. “Could not stop laughing? Wish I could think of a good one for you. Ummm…I’m trying to think of the best belly laugh I’ve had in awhile. I don’t know. On the streets it’s probably the kids that make me laugh the hardest. They always just say the most ridiculous stuff. Yesterday – a couple days ago, a kid was telling me how to play ‘chest.’ He just learned chess but he was calling it chest. And he was just so emphatically and passionately telling me how to play chest and it was completely wrong. He’s like,‘You squirt your players over there and you eat up the other spaces.’ It just made no sense. He was great. I love kids because they’re so wrong and they’re so sincerely wrong. They’re just passionately and sincerely wrong and that makes me laugh.”


Q. How did you meet your girlfriend?

A. “Erin and I met, I was just telling Officer House this, it was back when Humans of New York was very, very small. Maybe had like 100 followers on Facebook. But she was in the PR department of a jewelry store and she was just kind of blasting off emails to every blog and saying ‘Hey, come see our stuff!’ And I ignored the email. But the jewelry store had a really weird name. And I was just walking in SOHO and I saw the name of that jewelry store. It was real small. She was the only employee. And I popped my head in and was like, ‘Somebody here, you know, email Humans of New York?’ And she was like, ‘Oh yea, me.’ And she was smoking hot. Smoking hot. I got nervous. So I only stayed in there for a couple of minutes and left because she was so hot. But I emailed her later, and we uh, started dating.”


Q. Does the dog take up most of the bed?

A. “No, because they’re tiny! And Simon – we got two chihuahuas – and only one of them stays on the bed. Susie, god bless her, has dementia so bad right now she doesn’t like to sleep in the bed with us anymore, which hurts a little bit, but we’re used to it now. It’s only Simon. And he is tiny. He doesn’t take up most of the bed.”


Q. What is your greatest struggle right now?

A. “The greatest challenge right now…I’m trying to think if it’s updated since –  First of all I have the greatest struggles ever. The worries of someone in my position are just so good because it’s basically managing success. You know, and, it’s the best problem in the world to have is managing success. And right now it would be that Humans of New York reaches 15 million people every single day. And any other organization or outlet that is reaching that many people normally has an infrastructure of hundreds of employees. Somebody who handles the PR. Somebody who does this. Somebody who handles the legal. The journalists that create the content. The editors. And it’s just me. So trying to keep Humans of New York moving along the path and growing while creating space in my mind outside of Humans of New York where I’m just being a boyfriend or a father to my chihuahuas is increasingly difficult to do. But I’ve been saying that for a while. So I think I’m getting better. I might need to think of a new struggle.”

Q. Why is storytelling so important to you?

A. “Well I mean, stories are, they have a value just as, one, a source of entertainment. They’re interesting. It’s interesting to hear a really good story. And they’re also kind of vessels of information. It’s the way people condense their life experiences and what they’ve learned into a form that can be palpable by others. That was how it was used historically to pass down information and accumulated knowledge. As far as on the street listening to someone stories, I think it’s very, maybe theraputic is not the word, but it is. I think it’s very validating for people who, you know, are so used – we’re living in a society where everybody’s so busy trying to get their own story out and craft it and narrate it and make it look perfect on social media, that to have somebody stop you on the street and take like a very, very sincere interest – and not just what you did in your life, but what you learned from it. What did it mean to you? What were the pivotal moments, as you would ask. Especially for someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends, who doesn’t have a lot of people calling them on the phone. Having someone take that sincere interest in your life is very validating and very rewarding. And so beyond the presentation of the story just as, to use Joey’s marketing word, as a commodity, the interaction between two people is very important. And especially it might be the only interaction that person has had in a month. My favorite HONY interviews are, at the end, we’re both thanking each other. Those are my favorites.”  

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