Brandon Stanton started with a simple idea: He wanted to build a “photographic census” of New York City. A new arrival from Chicago in 2010, the bonds trader-turned-photographer planned to photograph 10,000 strangers as he wandered the streets, snapping pictures of locals, and post the images online. At the time, he had no photographic experience – in fact, he had no camera. What he did have was curiosity about people and their stories.
Some 5000 images, millions of viewers worldwide and plenty of shoe rubber later, Stanton’s Tumblr blog Humans of New York has become a hugely popular web destination and has spawned “Humans of” sites in other cities, as well as an offline coffee-table book that was an immediate bestseller. Even if you don’t follow his blog, you’re likely to have seen images from it shared online.
Like any census, Humans of New York isn’t a 100 percent accurate survey of the city’s population; it over-represents some segments, among them, seniors. In an online Q&A with the Reddit community, Stanton confessed to having preferences when it comes to subjects: “In a place as diverse as New York, it’s important to keep the photos as diversified as possible,” he responded to one question “[But] do I succeed in keeping my photos free of patterns? Of course not. I love puppies, kids, and old people. I feel like a lot of time the best perspectives, and quotes, come from people at the beginning and end of their lives.”
It was a picture of an older woman on the subway that convinced Stanton to routinely include quotes from the people he photographs; the woman was wearing all green and had also dyed her hair green. Stanton told American Photo, “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.”
Since then Stanton posts bits from the conversations he has during his street encounters, whether his subject is in the mood to open up or is less willing.
“My goal,” he recently told CBS Morning News, “is, in a very short amount of time using only a few questions, to find something out about that person, preferably something personal.”
Senior Planet decided to go back through Stanton’s summer archives and spotlight some of his meetings with elders. What were we looking for? Attitude, of course – New York attitude.
Click on the images to see the originals on humansofnewyork.com.
“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
“Don’t make eye contact.”
“He’s always supported a sense of independence in me.”
“How has he done that?”
“By letting me do what I damn well please.”
“Some aches and pains, but I’m enjoying being eighty. It’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I underestimated the pleasures of an unstructured life.”
“I’ve been working my whole life to make the word ‘organic’ mean something. I lobbied for 20 years. I was hopeful when the National Organic Program was instituted in 2000. I saw an early version of the bill, two months before it was passed, and I’m telling you— it was awesome. But they gutted it. By the time they got done with it, 142 synthetics were lawfully permitted in the growing of ‘organic’ food.”
“I’m an artist. I paint murals.”
“What would you say to a young artist?”
“Fuck the rules.”
“They call me Cat Man. I’ve normally got about three or four kittens in my jacket with me. There’s this empty lot in Brooklyn where this one cat keeps pumping out ten kittens every three months. She just won’t stop. She’s some sort of super cat. I carry them around and sell them for about $40 apiece.”
He handed me a business card.
It said: “Checker Pimp.”
Me: “Are you married?”
Man: “No, we’re lovers.”
Woman: “He wasn’t joking.”
“You stopped a live one today, honey. I’m an international cougar!”
“I’m 99 years old. Everything from my neck down is shit. But everything from my neck up is as good as anyone else. How lucky is that?”
“What’s your greatest struggle right now?”
“Trying not to take on everyone else’s shit so I can relax for a second.”
“I rushed through life. Now I’m relaxing. And I’ve gotten more out of relaxing than I did out of rushing.”
“What were you rushing toward?”
“Didn’t you get satisfaction from your achievements?”
“No. They only caused me to want more achievements.”
Are you an older human of New York? What would you tell Stanton if he asked you, “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
The man who said this in this article is doing a terrible thing to the cats:
““They call me Cat Man. I’ve normally got about three or four kittens in my jacket with me. There’s this empty lot in Brooklyn where this one cat keeps pumping out ten kittens every three months. She just won’t stop. She’s some sort of super cat. I carry them around and sell them for about $40 apiece.””
As many of us should report him to the police and also to ALL animal shelters, including those under the government. He’s aggravating an already horrific problem of cats’ overpopulation by allowing these cats to freely reproduce AND to make money out of selling the kittens. When the shelters are notified, they’ll spay or neuter these cats to, at least avoid more overpopulation and more suffering by these little animals. Thank you so much for helping!
Have you ever tried to catch a feral cat? Good luck with that. They are typical cat … sneaky, furtive, clever, slippery and absolutely determined to remain free.
Good luck with trying to catch or trap one of those.
You’re quite determined to win your idea that the cats aren’t worth helping. And now you argue they are difficult to catch…of course they are! They have no way of knowing we mean well for them until AFTER we showed them.
The wonderful group Alley Cats Allies know how to do it and have been doing it for many years. They have branches in many cities and also offer to teach whoever wants to do it. This is an intelligent way to not having to euthanize the animals. As long as they don’t reproduce, they can stay in those places living off mice, birds, etc. and the compassionate people who fee them all the time. The problem is when they aren’t castrated because they produce many offspring very frequently.
These are wonderful.
The gentleman that carries kittens around and sells them for $40 should take the $40 and get the momma cat spayed. There are too many unwanted kittens already in this world!
My thoughts exactly. If I lived in Brooklyn I would personally try and get the momma cat neutered. Are there any animal charities in NYC that could assist? Poor thing, she must be exhausted.
Hi Sara and thanks so much for your kind post! As I wrote to Merlin (her post here):
Actually there is an organization in several cities including NY: The Alley Cats Allies and what they do is go to the cat colonies when people report them and they spay and neuter as many as they can, when the cats recuperate they are returned to the colonies.
Please go to alleycat.org and report this to them. The more people report this, the more of an effort they’ll make to come to the place. They may have a branch in Brooklyn. But I’d report this to many other shelters, as I mentioned in my post here.
Thanks so very much again! :o)
What?? Neuter that cat and spoil his best source of income?? Please.