Humans of New York: A book review by Bob Morris

Humans of NYHumans of New York
Brandon Stanton
St. Martin’s Press (2013)

Images of a city unlike any other in combination with the essence of those who live there

Brandon Stanton dedicated this book to the City of New York, observing “I had this crazy, juvenile idea that you were going to make all my dreams come true, and you did.”

His book cannot be reviewed, it must be experienced. However, I shall make every effort to convince you to obtain a copy and have that experience, not only once but whenever you are tempted to doubt that there is any hope for the human race.

What we have in this one-of-a-kind volume is Stanton’s selection of urban portraits in full color he took during tree years of roaming the five boroughs of New York City. Certain people or situations caught his eye. He recorded them with his camera and later added comments, his or others’ or both.

After considering all manner of approaches to what Stanton shares, I have decided to proceed with a representative selection of comments. Here we go:

PHOTO: Older man with shoulder-length silver hair, wearing several silver crosses, half a robe, and sandals
CAPTION: “I’m a Catholic monk. I live a life of prayer.”
“What about the cigarette you’re smoking?”
“Somebody’s got to make the clouds.”

PHOTO: Frisky-looking young lady sitting on entry steps to an apartment building next to a jam box, wearing a tam and red-frame sunglasses
CAPTION: When I walked by, she was really moving to the music — hands up, head nodding, shoulders swinging. I really wanted to take her photo, so I walked up to the nearest adult and asked: “Does she belong to you?”
Suddenly the music stopped, and I heard: “I belong to myself.”

PHOTO: A white-haired man, nattily dressed (Ivy League senior), holding a copy of Barron’s, carrying a cane
CAPTION: “I’m ninety-nine years old. Everything from my neck down is shit. But everything from my neck up is just as good as everyone else’s. How lucky is that?”

PHOTO: Old man with long white beard, wearing a parka and knit hat
CAPTION: “I’m homeless, and I’m an alcoholic. But I have a dream”
What’s that?
“I wanna go fishing.”

PHOTO: Young girl with green hair and green eyebrows, wearing a fox tail around her neck
CAPTION: “I’ve been criticized for a lot more than my furs.”

PHOTO: Side view of a young woman wearing sunglasses; atop her head are swirls and strands of black and white hair
CAPTION: “I’m going to let you take my photo because you seem like a genuine person. But just so you know — I don’t normally let people steal my swag.”

The quality of the photography is superb but it is Stanton’s obvious – and sincere – interest in those who agreed to be photographed that invests this volume with wit and especially a warmth of appreciation that are truly remarkable.

Each time I accompany him on a tour of the five boroughs, I am again reminded that those who live there are EVERYONE in terms of their humanity and yet – paradoxically – they share an extended community unlike any other. I urge everyone who reads this review to purchase a copy of Humans of New York. Also, to visit the website.

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