NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On November 3, Rutgers students had a chance to meet the mysterious human behind the powerful book “Humans of New York.”
The event was hosted at the Douglass Student Center by Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA) and the Department of Leadership and Experiential Learning.
Several hundreds of students showed up to learn how Brandon Stanton’s started one of the most popular photography projects in recent years.
Questions submitted by students were asked by Keywuan Caulk, assistant director of the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities.
Stanton’s first bit of advice to the anxious crowd of undergraduates: “Fail now. College is the best time and place to learn how to fail.”
With each question answered, Stanton’s story became more apparent.
After the loss of his finance job in Chicago five years ago, he moved to New York with no prior photography experience but with the sole mission of taking 10,000 pictures.
Over time, Stanton perfected the process of getting to know strangers. He admits his initial mistakes were allowing his voice to caption some of the photographs.
“Knowing now, how much it is about the storytelling… I would have taken my voice out of the process much sooner,” said Stanton.
“I used to write little captions or observations,” he continued. “I would try and be funny and write little jokes on the blog, but the maturity of the work has truly come from me removing myself, removing my ego from the work and trying to disappear from the work entirely and making it entirely about the person’s story.”
When asked about how conversations with strangers has affected him personally, Stanton explained how he found the process to be therapeutic.
“I believe the process itself is beneficial to the person. Taking the time to listen to them and telling their story to make them feel less anonymous, less unappreciated,” said Stanton.
“It helps them feel like their suffering or their tragedy might have meaning, whether it be to speak to somebody else that’s in a similar situation or to inspire someone else,” he continued.
“My favorite interactions are the ones where both the subject and I are thanking each other at the end because the process of them telling their story and the process of my listening to their story was beneficial for both of us.”