Please read this first and foremost. It will only take a few seconds.
I can’t remember exactly when I discovered Humans of New York (HONY), but it’s one of the few things on my Facebook newsfeed which I take the time to read and consider. The pictures, always accompanied by some kind of quote, range from the previously linked to ones such as this one, that one, this other one, or this last one. In addition to being posted on HONY’s Facebook page, some of these photos, along with their quotes, have been compiled in a book which you can buy on Amazon or most likely one of your local bookstore giants (if they haven’t gone out of business yet).
One can always find things to complain about with initiatives like these (“It’s just stupid and campy.” “Well, Brandon is making money off of these people now. Exploitation!” “Why doesn’t he help these people instead of just taking their picture!?”), and, to an extent, I think there is some level of validity in those critiques, though perhaps not articulated in quite that way. My interest, however, stems from the wide exploration of people and the snapshots one gets of these individuals, which, more often than not, is surprisingly personal and revealing. For me, I feel that Brandon’s project is giving many people a voice, one which they perhaps feel is lost in our current system of government. Especially in a city like New York, it’s easy to feel as if no one has any interest in what you say, let alone whether you’re breathing at all.
To go out on a limb, I think Brandon’s project could be seen as a type of political action that is called for by Honig. If we agree that there is a general sense among people that their voice no longer matters in our country, especially to politicians (except for when they want your vote), then HONY seems like an example of what is necessary. He doesn’t have many prerequisites, if any, for being photographed and gives each person photographed the chance to say whatever they want, though he usually asks a question of some kind. By providing this type of platform, Brandon is, hopefully, beginning the deconstruction of social boundaries; to elaborate, the homeless are given just as much freedom with their words and given just as much importance as the wealthiest individuals he encounters, the “unknown” person as much as the “famous”, one nationality as much as every other, women as much as men. Perhaps this is partially the reason for the title, “Humans of New York”: to emphasize the arbitrariness of the boundaries we have come to accept in our society and attempt to eliminate the judgments we tend to make of others because of them.
To get back to the original post I linked, portraits such as those perhaps emphasize the need for the type of action which Honig claims is necessary for broader change. We are presented with someone who has been failed by our systems: an education system which fails in its job to discourage the kind of violence that ruined this man’s life, support systems supposedly made for people like him but through which he seemed to fall, an economic system which would allow for his employment despite his disabilities instead of letting him starve and scramble for food (based on various aspects of the photo, I’m guessing he doesn’t acquire food, or really anything, easily). In the end, I don’t think HONY will ultimately result in some massive social shift on a global scale, though it appears to at least be a step in the right direction, maybe even the beginning of the type of political action necessary to achieve such a shift.