The mosaic world of Humans of New York


Did I mention it’s hard to meet people in New York?

EP-140619623In New York where every minute is a new day and each shift of the sun brings a fresh possibility means that New Yorkers are always in a rush.  And while it’s not hard to have brief encounters, sometimes captivating conversations with a random actor on the subway, or meet a Russian immigrant taxi driver who has lived in Queens for 44 of his 60 years, or discuss literature with a bartender on the Lower East Side it is really difficult to keep a relationship going.

Time magazine wrote that “The New York City metropolitan area was the world’s first mega city and remains a 19.8 million–strong powerhouse with global reach in everything from fashion to finance.” The history of New York is a mosaic tale of stories with immigrants arriving by the boatloads to the greatest beacon of hope in the world, the Statue of Liberty.  And as any great mosaic should, New York is a reflection of the diversity of the tiles which come together to create a perfect whole admired at an intimate level as well as from afar.

That isn’t to say that New York is a perfect city.  It is a city that has struggled with the idea of a melting pot culture and the new ideal of multiculturalism and its truth and reality is a constant tug of war on how a city who holds value in it’s roots will function in the future with such wide ranges of cultures, with over 800 languages spoken – more than any other city in the world, and just MAYBE be the shining example for the mega cities predicted of the future.  And yet amongst the people there is  a desperation, a powerful need to find connection and meaning in a city that is often described as a lonely place.

Enter Brandon Stanton.  A photojournalist who began arguably the worlds most mesmerizing study of humanity in New York city.  “I began Humans of New York in the summer of 2010. I thought it would be really cool to create an exhaustive catalogue of New York City’s inhabitants, so I set out to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map. I worked for several months with this goal in mind, but somewhere along the way, HONY began to take on a much different character.” This excerpt from the HONY About page tells the story of how a map of neighbors became an inspiration network.

The key factor of the Humans of New York isn’t the photos but the captions.  Brandon credits Kirk Willis, his English history professor during  university as a key influence for how the site functions stating that his professor made lectures captivating and engaging using storytelling.  From this Brandon developed an interest in reading biographies. He incorporated his interests into HONY as part of an evolution.  He says “HONY was evolving from photography to mixed medium,” “So I really started focusing on getting better with my interviews.”

Eventually Brandon published a Humans of New York book and it was an instant bestseller.   As of February 2015 his blog had over 12 million followers on Facebook and around 400,000 on Tumblr.

Brandon’s blog recounts the idea that with all of the immigration and mixed cultures a mosaic is a culture best suited to a country like the United States of America.  If the values of a city like New York hold true many different cultures can successfully coexist together to create one diverse country.  The mosaic gives people a chance to embrace their roots and differences and accept the differences of others underneath a united American flag.

The flaw with the mosaic is that if people don’t accept the differences of each other the country won’t be able to function as the diverse culture that it aims for, instead it will be the society separated by race and culture separating people who are different from each other.

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