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Former Chicago Trader Is Human Behind Humans of New York

"Modernism marked an aesthetic shift in the world of art," John Winters writes for the Brockton, Massachusetts Enterprise.

"The idea or concept emerged to be just as important as content. The best exhibitions, of course, feature both.

"Which brings us to Humans of New York, a collection of street photos by Brandon Stanton, a great idea that has produced some wonderful art - first, a blog full, and now an entire book. (See some of the photos.)

"The beautiful volume virtually recreates the thrill of going to a compelling exhibition and wondering what's around the next corner. Crack open Humans of New York, and you can't stop turning the pages to see what street scene or interesting person pops up next. It's as an addictive art experience as I've ever had.

"Stanton traded stocks for two years in Chicago before being laid off. He bought a camera with some money he'd won betting on football. With his free time, he started photographing people on the street, but hit pay dirt when he came to New York City.

"There he found a bouillabaisse of normal, crazies, beauties, lovers, haters, heroes, losers, freaks, children and even two failed terrorists, each with a story to tell. When he began posting his work online, the project became the perfect mix of social media and social interaction. (By the time you read this, he'll have close to 2 million followers.). Meanwhile the book has already topped the Times bestseller list."


From Stanton's website bio:

"During my senior year of college, I took out $3,000 in student loans and bet it on Barack Obama to win the presidency. A friend heard about this bet and got me a job trading bonds on the Chicago Board of Trade. I traded for three years. It went really well for awhile. But then it went really bad. Whoops.

"After I lost my trading job, I decided to move to New York City and take portraits of strangers on the street. Mom wasn't too happy about that decision, but so far it's gone pretty well. I've taken nearly 5,000 portraits and written 50 stories. And I've met some amazing people along the way."


"With a combination of disarming folksiness and passable - though admittedly inexpert - photography skills, Mr. Stanton has achieved one of the most unlikely success stories in a city filled with them," Julie Bosman writes for the New York Times.

"Now, hundreds of those pictures and interviews have been compiled into a book, Humans of New York, which has become an instant publishing phenomenon.

"After its first week on sale last month, the book landed in the No. 1 spot on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list, catapulting past Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus."


"Stanton's daily quest to chronicle five or six interesting lives began as a hobby in 2010, when he was trading options in Chicago," Michael Kaplan writes for American Photo.

The job became a grind and he unwound on the weekends by taking pictures downtown. After getting laid off, Stanton decided to focus on the single thing he loved doing: photographing interesting strangers on the street.

The surprising but revelatory captions - such as one from a hookah-smoking fellow who declared, "Egypt is like a mango" - grew out of conversations with his subjects. His aha moment came after he posted an image of a green-haired woman dressed in green.

"It wasn't a great photo; the lighting wasn't good and I botched the composition," he recalls. "But she said to me, 'I used to be a different color every day. Then one day I tried green and it was a really good day. I've been green every day for 15 years.'

I put the photo up, added the caption, and it became the most popular photo I ever posted."

"These days he routinely receives (and declines) corporate gigs, and offers for promotional deals roll in (he turned down Canon's social-media arm because they wanted him to promote a camera he doesn't use).

"He did one gratis deal for Facebook - the company Stanton says played a major role in HONY's existence.

"Facebook changed my life," he explains, adding that discussing it actually makes him emotional. "Everything has been possible for HONY because social-media platforms showed an interest in this new art form and found an audience for it. HONY would have a hard time flourishing under search engine optimization, which helps you find things you know you are looking for. Social media helps you find things you didn't know you were looking for."

"Stubbornly independent, Stanton says that he has no problems with making money. But it has to be on his terms. He sold some prints to generate income and sold some more to help raise $250,000 for Hurricane Sandy relief. After DKNY used his images without permission, Stanton passed up the opportunity to sue or settle and received good-guy status for life by having the company make a $25,000 donation to the YMCA in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, where he works out every day."


From St. Martin's Press:

"With 400 full-color photos and a distinctive vellum jacket."


Comments welcome.


Posted on November 19, 2013

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