Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton tells his gritty story behind popular blog

It took getting fired, a mattress from Craigslist and hard work to create the famous photo blog.

Getting fired from his job as a bond trader in Chicago was a good thing for Brandon Stanton.

He had been clinging to feeling prestigious, rooted from his insecurities about dropping out of college, working at Applebee’s and eventually completing his degree. Getting fired meant Stanton was free to pursue photography, a passion that led him to creating the popular blog Humans of New York.

Photo: Austin Henry Wallace
Just four years after taking his first photograph of strangers, Stanton interviewed President Barack Obama for his blog Humans of New York.

“I want to control my own time,” Stanton said to a packed Goldstein Auditorium Monday night. “I want to do something that I love all day long and I want to just make enough money that would allow me to do that.”

Stanton told hundreds of Syracuse University community members the gritty story behind the blog with over 20 million followers across social media platforms as part of the University Lecture series, co-hosted by University Union.

When Stanton thought of the idea for Humans of New York, he needed money. He called his more successful friends and asked them to buy prints of his photos. Once he had enough, he traveled to New York City – a place he had never been before – and slept on a mattress on a floor of a New York apartment he found on Craigslist with three strangers to make Humans of New York happen.

Attention came when he started to add quotes and stories from the people he photographed, which is how he formats the blog now. The first photo he captioned with a quote – a woman whose clothes and hair were entirely green – became his most-liked photo on Facebook, with 63 likes.

That was when he realized that Humans of New York was not about photography, not about writing and not about interviewing.

“(It) comes from a very short amount of time stopping a random person on the streets and taking the atmosphere of suspicion and distrust that comes with any stranger and building the bubbles of comfort,” he said.

During his presentation, Stanton also criticized the way mainstream medias report certain countries because the compelling stories usually contain too much conflict and tensions.

When journalists from media companies go to a country looking for stories, they tend to look for stories related to terrorism, bombing or radicalism, he said. When finding stories for Humans of New York, the narratives are not skewed because the interviews are random and are not geared towards violence, conflict or any specific topic.

“People on the other side of the world if you are talking about Pakistan, that’s all they hear about the country,” Stanton said. “They don’t hear about the 99.99 percent of lives.”

At the end of his talk, the audience got the first sneak peek of Stanton’s pilot for a series based on the blog, which he said he’s pitching to major television networks. He shared clips from two interviews: one of a woman who is an assistant to a wealthy family, and another of a father with his son who plays tennis.

The last University Lecture of the semester will be with Sonia Nazario, an award-winning journalist, on April 5.

NewsHouse producer Ellen Meyers contributed to this story.



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