Stanton discusses HONY roots, storytelling

Seven years. 10,000 portraits.

Photographer Brandon Stanton has traveled the world with the goal of capturing 10,000 portraits. The “Humans of New York” founder spoke about his experience and answered questions with students in a session on Tuesday, April 10, in the East Gallery of Founders Hall.

Starting the Q&A, Stanton spoke of his experience beginning the “Humans of New York” photos.

“I would just kind of walk up to people and I’d be like shifting around, I could barely make eye contact,” said Stanton. “It was so awkward.”

Senior Ellie Pershing posed a question about how Stanton develops a sense of trust with interviewees.

“I do the best I can to put the agency in the hands of the person I am interviewing,” said Stanton.

When it first began, “Humans of New York” was primarily photographs. Now, parts of the conversation between Stanton and the subject are used as captions on social media.

According to Stanton, although the captions are usually around 100 words long, the interviews last one to two hours long.

“For me, it’s most interesting when you get to that place where you’re examining someone’s life for the first time on the street,” said Stanton. “And when you get to that place, you can feel it.”

Students such as sophomore Eder Flores attended the Q&A after following Stanton on social media for several years.

“I’ve been following his blog and you know it was really interesting how he can achieve that storytelling without saying a lot,” said Flores. “I wanted to learn more about how he does that and the process that he uses.”

Stanton’s discussion of process was particularly valuable for Guilford students who attended the event.

“I have been following him for years,” said first-year Nima Lama. “I was really excited to see him in this event. I’m trying to learn about photography and this whole system of interviewing and making someone feel comfortable.

“He really dove into that a lot so it was really helpful.”

For students such as first-year Ree Ree Wei, Stanton’s work hits close to home.

“The reason I attended is because the work that he did in Bangladesh about the Rohingya refugees and how he was really able to get the stories from them and really find out the truth,” said Wei. “My family is originally from Burma as well, and we were persecuted by the government.

“So that’s why I always keep up with that.”

Having already traveled to 120 countries, Stanton hopes to continue hearing the genuine stories of others.

“To me, the photos are secondary,” said Stanton. “It’s really about the story.”