Hunting the Humans of New York

Damian Chadwick
3 min readSep 10, 2016

My name is Brandon Stanton and I’m the photographer behind the popular portrait series “Humans of New York”. Since 2010, I’ve been travelling the streets of New York and beyond, taking photographs of strangers, documenting their stories, and then murdering each and every one of them in a different way. It’s been an inspiring journey, and one that has shown me the city and its inhabitants in a new way.

When I first moved to the city, I was immediately struck by the thousands of faces I saw every day. What journeys had each of them taken through life that led them here? What loves, struggles and passions had they gone through? And how could I absorb their essence by snuffing out each of their lives and gathering their power and wisdom for myself?

With just a second-hand Nikon and a new pair of sneakers, I set out for the answers. I gave myself a goal of photographing 10,000 people, documenting their stories, and then quietly (or not so quietly) killing them immediately afterward. It wasn’t easy, by any means. Photographing all day on the streets of NYC presents many challenges, the biggest one being that New Yorkers are always in a hurry to get somewhere, and they almost never want to stop to talk to a stranger with a camera — or to have a balled-up gym sock crammed down their throats until they suffocate.

But once you break the ice, every single person you see on the street has a story as fascinating or inspiring or heartbreaking as anything Hollywood could come up with. It’s amazing how much people are willing to share about themselves in what will be their last moments on Earth. One day, I interviewed an elderly man who was coming from his 91 year-old sister’s funeral. In his grief, he reflected that “in the end, we each live the life we are supposed to.” It was a moment of truth and honesty that I felt deeply privileged to witness, just before I quietly injected him with enough heroin to put down a Saint Bernard. He had had a chance to speak his truth, and I had been there to take him from the Earth at this perfect moment.

I think what draws people to HONY first is the photographs. I try in each one to capture what is unique about that person. Sometimes it’s an outfit or a hairstyle or even just a posture or attitude that expresses a person’s spirit and way of living. But in each and every one, if you look very carefully, you can see in the eyes an inkling of their own impending death. It’s hard to define, but it’s there, and it’s what draws me to them: the subconscious knowledge that they are destined to die that day, and that I will ferry them through that journey. And whether it’s a rare poison swabbed onto a bus driver’s tongue, or a series of rapid, quiet stabs to the chest of an aspiring punk drummer, the manner of each death is as unique and beautiful as the person’s story.

Every day photographing people for HONY has been a gift to me, a chance to experience the real New York. Where before I saw the city as grey concrete and steel and glass, I now see it for what it is: a rich, vibrant hunting ground.

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