CHAUTAUQUA — Some people talk to him about their struggles.
Brandon Stanton listens intently.
“This is how people connect – through their struggles,” said Stanton.
Stanton addressed members of the amphitheater audience on Friday at the Chautauqua facility on the topic “Nature: reconnecting with our natural world.”
Stanton explained that he was an artist and had stopped around 10,000 random people, mostly in New York, and photographed and interviewed them. He spends about 45-60 minutes interviewing strangers, people he’s never met before.
And it puts them at ease, allowing them to be authentic in their responses.
“And I will write their lives in the form of history”, he said, “and I will share this every night with my audience, which is about 20 million people on social media.”
Stanton, author, photographer and founder of the street portrait blog “New York Humans” (HONY) has become a global Internet phenomenon and one of today’s most influential storytellers, according to assembly.chq.org. HONY, a collection of thousands of street portraits and conversations with subjects as intimate as the photos themselves, now has 20 million social media followers.
Stanton’s individual story, like those of HONY, exemplifies the power of the internet, the value of storytelling, and our desire to stay connected with real people in a tech-driven world. reflects on the power and importance of facilitating human connection in our man-made and natural world. Since “New York Humans” premiered in 2010, Stanton’s gift for storytelling spawned three bestselling books: Humans of New York, which spent 45 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list; New York Humans: Stories; and Humans, which lists Stanton’s travels to more than 40 countries, interviewing across continents, borders and language barriers and offering a portrait of our shared human experience. Stanton graduated from the University of Georgia and currently lives in Atlanta.
Stanton didn’t take his first photo until he was 26. Before that, he failed college, returned to college, and held several jobs, including a bond trader in Chicago, where he lost interest in work and soon lost that job. . He then moved to New York where he started taking pictures and interviewing people. It was then that his newfound interest began to blossom.
Stanton shared with the public some of the photos he took with parts of the interviews. He said that when he was in New York, he didn’t go to concerts or restaurants, but rather he photographed almost all day, every day. He was trying to figure out his new skill, his new passion and how he could earn enough money.
He had taken thousands of pictures when he met a woman dressed in green – jacket, pants, gloves, shoes and even her hair was dyed green. He took a picture of her, but he admitted it wasn’t one of his favorites. He said the woman was very interesting, but he thought he might have spoiled the picture. He wasn’t even going to post it on his Facebook page. This was back when social media was in its infancy and posting anything was years away, he said.
He had therefore photographed the woman, but the next day he fell ill and could not get out of bed, so he could not share photos. Up until then, he was shooting every day, but he remembered the photo of this woman, and she had something for him during the interview that resonated with him.
“She said I used to be a different color every day. But one day I was green and it was a beautiful day. So I’ve been green for 15 years,” he said.
He said that at the time, it was the most engaging social media photo he had ever posted. He received 67 likes, but added at the time that it was a lot for him. He knew he might not be the best photographer, but his other angle, making random people feel comfortable enough for him to take their pictures. It went from almost everyone saying “Nope” to about half of people saying “Nope.” Nine months after posting that photo, he was getting 30,000 new Facebook fans a day, he said.
“It makes sense that the thing I had become so good at was stopping a random person and getting them comfortable to get over that hump and discomfort that you feel in the presence of a stranger,” he said.
He said when he’s done interviewing someone on the street, it’s like magic happens in a short time. The interview experience is transformative for him as he learns from people’s struggles.
“My first question is always what is your biggest struggle? You find someone’s biggest struggle (and) often, you’ll find their expertise, the thing they’ve thought about the most, the thing they have the most wisdom about. said Stanton. “It’s because where there is struggle, there is growth. Find where someone really, really struggled and you find where they have something to offer the world and explain to the world that maybe no one else can explain.