Humans is probably one of my most favorite books of 2021 (and 2020!) Everyone world over knows Brandon Stanton and if you don’t know who he is, then you would surely know Humans of New York blog that he runs. Humans of New York became insanely popular that everyone create their own versions of Humans of…. page to cover the real life stories of people around this.
Humans is a book that I go back to again and again. There are stories in here of people who struggle, of resilient people, of people who are grateful despite their hardships. One disabled man in Iraq, who is confined to a wheelchair due to his dwarfism, inserted a photo of his head on a tall man to see what he looks like as a normal man. There are stories of parents and children, of husbands and wives, of friends, of lovers, of exes. There are stories of unfulfilled dreams and hopes, of heartbreaks, of deaths of loved ones, of being grateful for where they are in life.
As a Pakistani, I was susprised to see so many stories from Pakistan in this book. The first and last story in Humans are from Pakistan. Stanton does talk about how he went about doing project outside of New York and traveling over the world.
It was in 2010 when Stanton started with his project to photograph 10,000 people in New York and actually mapping out the photograph on the map. His initial goal to photograph people turned into something else: approach strangers, make them feel comfortable and engage them in conversation. Slowly and surely, as Stanton talked to more and more people, Humans of New York transitioned into something else altogether: it was about the peoplel and their stories, and not so much about the photo. Humans of New York became known for the candour and the intimacy of its stories.
“Many of my portraits are taken in parks…it’s because people are much more approacahble when theu’r sitting unde a tree than when they’re rushing down a sidewalk.”
“…I’d want to go home and quit. But every time I broke throuh a shield and found a person on the other side, it was energizing.”
“…the approach is perhaps the most important part of my job. It’s the process of getting through the real person. Finding what’s behind the shield, and presenting it to the world.”
“If our shields are what separates us, it’s what’s behind them that brings is together: the struggles, the worries, the pain, the weakness. All the soft spots. The places we protect. These are things that make us more relatable to others. These are the things that connect us- if we allow them to be seen.”
“The people featured on these pages were chosen randomly on the streets of cities around the world. They weren’t asked to talk about politics or terrorism. These people were invited to speak on the subjects that they deemed most important to their lives.”
“For many months after I visited Pakistan, Pakistani people would come up to me on the street and say: “Thank you so much for showing a positive image of our country.” I was extremely appreciative of the sentiment. But I would correct them slightly. I’d tell them: “I showed a random image of your country. Not a positive one.””
“Every person has a story because everyone has a struggle.”
“Struggles are crucial because they’re transformative. Struggle changes people.”
“It may seem depressing…but the struggle is merely a starting point. It’s where the story starts.”
“Struggle connects us.”
“We empathise with pain much more than with joy.”
“Humans of New York grew so quickly…because it injected a dose of vulnerability onto a platform where everyone was trying to appear unbroken…you’d stumble across a person sharing their struggle. And it was different. Different enough to make you stop. And read. and connect.”
You Can’t Do This Here
“And almost everywhere I do, I hear a variation of the same thing: ‘You won’t be able to this here.’ And approaching strangers proved to be easier in Tehran than in New York City. Most people were extremely curious about the work and eager to participate.”
“In the Muslim world, where hospitality is considered sacred, kindness towards guests is seen as a duty. So almost everyone was waem and inviting, and hardly anyone refused to be photographed.”
“No matter how different the language is. Or the religion. Or the clothing. Or the buildings. The process always feels the same.”
“Interviews rarely begin with the truth. They begin with discomfiort and uncertainty. People protect themselves with cliches or generalities, and punctuate their answers with nervous laughter. But more interviews eventually get to the truth.”
The stories that I am sharing below are all from Pakistan. There are loads of others equally amazing and inspiring, and it would be hard for me to share all of them. Outside of the Pakistanis, I have shared one story of a psychotherapist in New York (because she spoke exactly what I am experiencing in my own work) and one in Japan because I felt the father speaking about children and technology has a valid point to make.
I love the last two stories that I have shared below. One is a man who has proclaimed himself to be the “happiest man in Pakistan.” Goes to show how far gratitude can take you in life! Second story is actually the last story in the book itself- very cheeky, but very simple.
Enjoy. Be inspired. Be vulnerable. And most of all, be connected to these people who are just like you and me!