Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the photoblog and #1 New York Times bestselling book Humans of New York has received the James Joyce Award from the UCD Literary & Historical Society at University College Dublin, Ireland.
On setting out in the summer of 2010 to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map, Brandon says that he “thought it would be really cool to create an exhaustive catalogue of New York City’s inhabitants”. Since then, Humans of New York has evolved into a catalogue of photographs of NYC inhabitants alongside quotes and short stories Brandon collects while speaking with them. Today, Humans of New York has over 4.5 million followers on social media offering them a glimpse into the daily lives of strangers in New York City.
“This award recognises Brandon’s remarkable dedication and achievement in producing an expansive photographic record of the inhabitants of New York City. With over 6,000 portraits and narratives to date, and counting, Humans of New York lends its audience keen insights into this fascinating city and the way of life of its inhabitants,” says Eoin MacLachlan, Auditor of the UCD Literary & Historical Society, University College Dublin.
The James Joyce Award is named in honour of University College Dublin’s best known graduate, James Joyce, the author of Ulysses, who himself was a leading light of the UCD Literary & Historical Society.
Previous recipients of the UCD Literary & Historical Society James Joyce Award include: former White Stripes frontman, Jack White; the Beatle’s music producer and arranger, the man known as the Fifth Beatle, Sir George Martin; Harry Potter author, JK Rowling; Satanic Verses author, Salman Rushdie; former Monty Python, Michael Palin; and The Who frontman and legendary rock star, Roger Daltrey.
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actually do you guys want to see how I approach somebody on the street and ask them these questions that's it's always okay kind of a volunteer all right come on down what's your name yeah they give me hug okay um so here you can just actually sit right there and I'll pretend like you're just you're just relaxing um so you know like I said I've only been photographing for four years and there's no way I'm the best photographer in the world um no way I'm the best journalist in the world but I have approached over 10,000 people on the streets of what is stereotypically and by reputation one of the colder cities in the world and have asked them you know for their photographs so I'm thinking about about this time I might be just about the best of the world at stopping random people on the street and getting them to let me take their photograph and then kind of you know what it is about humans and you are going to say it's not the photography what it is that if you want to use business terms I'm sure some of you study business that's the competitive advantage of humans of New York why is it growing so fast why is it so difficult to duplicate it's the taking a atmosphere of kind of fear and strange this in uncomfortableness and turning that into an atmosphere of intimacy where people feel comfortable to disclose in a very short amount of time and you know the way that I figured this out it's just by doing it ten thousand times and just get beaten down beating down beating down beating down just through you know getting yelled at getting of it making people very nervous getting uncomfortable and so I just you know a leash on it Ellen no that's okay um and uh I'm sure you told it to me right probably my fault and so you know just over approaching like 10,000 people you know I've just kind of learned kind of naturally and applies to a lot of different areas it's just how to make people comfortable when you're first meeting them and this applies at parties or anything and you know when I was first starting humans of New York what I was always experimenting with is what is the correct words to say right I thought it was like what what what words can I say they're going to allow me to get this person to take my photograph and I remember I experimented with everything you know I had my little speech I was constantly taking with it I'm just to give you an example of how much attention I was paying to it I spent so long trying to figure out whether it be more effective to use the word portrait or photograph just something little like that can I take your portrait or can I take your photograph just like what's it going to be that allows these people to feel comfortable enough to let me take their picture and then after just repeated and repeated and repeated attempts I realized it had nothing to do with what the words I was saying and it's it's all about the energy that you're giving off it's just 100 percent energy and it's very hard to teach because the worst energy you can give off is nervousness and it's almost impossible than not being nervous if you have an approach people 10,000 times you know what I mean and so it almost just had to be earned through just like beating it into me beating it into it because when you walk up to somebody and you're kind of nervous and you're shifting and you're kind of not looking them straight in the eye so quick they have this subconscious reaction why is he nervous you know what's going on you know what's going on and so it's just like basically what you're doing on the street is people are just making these kind of subconscious especially in New York where like in New York if somebody comes up to you and they talk to you even if that this big smile on your face so like hey you know how are you blah blah blah blah blah just need your credit card number right here you know I mean it's like it's always coming around to something so that's a very hard stigma to overcome and so you know the way I do it is just by being as calm and non-threatening as possible and it actually kind of makes me wince when I see it on video because I already kind of have a bit of a high voice but when I make an approach I sound like a woman uh-huh and I just like and so what I'll do is well the first thing the first thing I'll do is I'll never approach from behind so in a series it's rule number one if the first if the first reaction of somebody to you is this your scrote it's like I know you could be Mother Teresa and they're not going to want to talk to you so if Ellen was you know facing this way okay so what I would do and she's kind of sitting down but even if she was walking she was walking down that way I crossed the street and I kind of you know and then I'll make the long turn and then I'll come and then I always kind of like always crouched and you know this isn't even any something that I made the conscious decision to do this is just stuff that was like conditioned into me from like so long and I go excuse me I is there any way I can take your photograph yeah okay and so and so she said and she said yes and so you know I what's funny because now it's been a best-selling book it's pretty well known in New York obviously but still like almost like it's a tribute and testament to my roots when I was just a guy walking around with a camera an idea I always just start out with you mind if I take your photo and sometimes that's enough to say yes if they start to hesitate you can kind of feel the no coming there's a lot of ways to feel the no coming if they never actually stopped moving okay that's that's very hard to turn into a yes um and so like you can tell you can feel the no coming from the kind of like the facial expressions so if I feel the no coming then I come out with the phone it's a best-selling book here it is blah blah blah blah blah and so then that'll happen and so if they say yes notice I never tell them about the interview at first um it's it but it's important it's like you don't want to just drop it on them you know and I mean like can I take your photo and ask you about your mom's cancer or anything like that like you just like because the conversations get very intimate very fast and I just like you just want to kind of have it be escalating slowly um so Ellen said yes so I will always take a full-body shot first um the west intimate and so Wow um and then what I'll do is I'll sit down and I always Wow and oh and so but that's that's one thing I will actually always try to do it so if you see pictures of me on Instagram or whatever like so many times I'm laying on the ground you know especially because I'm six for light and I just like the goal is to just be as non-threatening as possible so like I'll normally just kind of like sit down at somebody's feet I'm like this and okay so Ellen this is a this is a lot different than I normally do because obviously um oh man I love Ellen so um but the reason that it's difficult obviously is that normally when I'm having this conversation it would just be like me and you like buy you know a fire escape you might have been smoking a cigarette or something and there's not a bunch of people watching so it's obviously obviously it's a you know it's it's a lot easier not and I will tell you guys like one thing that I always look for is people standing alone because it's very it's very paradoxical that even when people have heard of humans of New York even when they know it's going to be shared in front of like 6 million people later that night if their friends near them they'll clam up is that interesting if there's like somebody actually there that they know that they'll clam up and so you know obviously this is a very you know different environment than I normally ask questions in and they're very hard questions also um so if you can't think of an answer don't worry about it sometimes I ask people eight questions they can't think of an answer to any of them so it's if there's any question you can't think one answer to it's it's not a big deal at all um but one question that I often ask is what is your greatest struggle right now and my friend my best friend is moving to Holland next Wednesday okay so I'm trying to cope with that one getting ready for my exams okay um so how long have you known this person yeah since Christmas that was quick I'd probably I'd probably go with that uh it's uh Wow um yeah it's great normally if something really makes me laugh it automatically goes on the blog oh that is funny Chris uh okay well good you're off the hook you said something awesome um so now I can just kind of without Ellen being under the pressure to say something that profound or funny um I can kind of it you know explain my thought process of while why I'm going through the interview what I'm doing when I'm going through the interviews and as you guys have noticed that the entire kind of path up to this point has been escalating levels of intimacy you know oh can I take your photo um do you mind it and then I take the portrait and then I come up I skipped a few steps what I say since you guys already know I had skipped it but ideas ago well what I actually do is I've taken over 5,000 pictures of people around New York City and I find out a little bit about everyone I photograph and I might photograph you while you're talking or while you're thinking and then I move into one thing that I often ask and I always start with like these very very broad questions you guys have probably noticed and they're never really that I'm never really looking for those answers necessarily but I'm looking for starting points to kind of get into a conversation a lot of times I'll ask a very broad question like what's your greatest struggle right now or give one piece of advice and you know a lot of times the answer is almost always very broad like for example excuse me give one piece of advice be optimistic okay and so what I'm always looking for is I'm always looking for something that that person has told me that nobody else has told me you know I don't want it to be and that's normally not an opinion and it's normally not a philosophy it's almost always a story because we all share similar philosophies we all share similar opinions on a lot of different issues but all of our stories are our own so what I'm doing is I'm trying to like peel off the layers of answers to get from these very broad philosophical statements to a story that I've never heard before because it sets up that person so if they say give me one piece of be optimistic tell me about a time that you had trouble being optimistic you know or take more risks tell me about a time when you didn't take a risk that you really regretted it forgive people who in your life if you had the hardest time forgiving you know what's your greatest struggle right now um getting over depression tell me about the time in your life that you felt the most depressed you know it's always you know these it's always about trying to take things from the very broad because there's like a safety there's a safety to answering very generally you know with these kind of one-word cookie-cutter answers that it's protecting it's like a layer of protection you don't really reveal anything around your about yourself by saying seize the day but when you're asked to tell about a time that you didn't seize the day then you're you're kind of forced to reveal about yourself and so it's always it's always a effort of taking the taking the very broad and turning it into the very personal and that's really you know what I'm trying to do sometimes it's the first thing out of their mouth their best friend Matt she met at Christmas you know that's that's very Ellen could not be more Ellen than that and you know sometimes it takes about 10 or 15 minutes but if the person has the way I determine whether somebody's going to go on the blog or not it's really just like open or closed energy sometimes you're just asking the question the person's giving these clipped answers you can tell it's not going anywhere they're just they've chosen not to disclose which is perfectly fine as we're doing asking questions um but you know if somebody's sitting there and trying to think of the answers and taking time I will sit there with them as long as possible 15-20 minutes because I know that eventually we're going to we're going to find out something and I like to ask about the emotions too as you guys are probably seen saddest moment happiest moment to moment you felt most afraid moment you felt most letdown because you guys will think about like the pivotal moments in your life more often than not there was an extremely strong emotion attached to those moments and so like if you really want to get like the stories that really kind of formed a person a good place to start as like is to act to circle around these emotions and try to find out what the stories were associated with these very strong feelings and so that's that's what I'm doing with my interview process one more hug Allen thanks you