On Monday evening, Brandon Stanton, founder of the popular photography blog “Humans of New York,” spoke to students in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Grand Ballroom about how he went from being a bonds trader in Chicago to a photojournalist in New York City.
The event was a collaboration between USC Spectrum, USC Speakers Committee, USC Performing Arts Committee and USC Special Events Committee. It was part of the university’s first annual Arts Week, which has events running from March 31 to April 6.
Stanton has been photographing and interviewing people in New York for his site since November 2010. The blog has gained a mass following, with currently more than 4 million likes on Facebook. Stanton also has a New York Times bestselling book, Humans of New York.
Each photograph of a pedestrian on the streets of the city is accompanied by a short quote or anecdote that the subject told Stanton.
“As long as someone is being open and honest, I’ll sit with them for as long as it takes,” Stanton said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “I’m normally looking for a quote specific to that person, that I’ve never heard before. Normally that comes in the form of a story.”
Throughout his talk, Stanton emphasized how “Humans of New York” became successful because he focused on his work and on being unique in a sea of photographers.
“It’s more important to be different than to be good if you want to get noticed,” Stanton said.
To get to the point that it’s at now, Stanton said “Humans of New York” went through many evolutions.
“Every time I found something that I thought was different than what everybody else was doing, I immediately stopped focusing on everything else,” he said.
The unique format of “Humans of New York,” as well as its popularity and success, has inspired many spinoff blogs for other cities. Victoria Kasar, a senior majoring in business administration and international relations (global business), even created a “Humans of USC” Facebook page in January.
“Part of the reason why I started it is because, much like New York, much like L.A., there’s so much diversity at this school,” Kasar said. “But not necessarily that [people are] aware of one another, because everyone has their own community.”
During the question and answer session that followed Stanton’s presentation, Kasar asked him about what he thinks of spinoff blogs.
“To be absolutely honest, when I was first getting started I was nervous because I hadn’t made an income yet,” Stanton said. “Because ‘Humans of New York’ is a very awesome concept, but it was also kind of a brand for my art at this time.”
Stanton said, however, that he has since changed his perspective.
“If you let go of this idea of, like, watermarking everything … then you kind of unlock the magic of the Internet, which is for people to kind of stumble upon your work in unconventional ways,” he said.
Though the blog has had multiple incarnations, Stanton was able to sum up its current form in one sentence.
“Really at its core, it’s telling intimate stories about strangers.”
Students’ reactions to event were very positive.
Asher Genoot, a sophomore majoring in accounting and business administration, considered Stanton’s journey to be admirable.
“I came into it very open-minded … I just find it kind of amazing, like, how really his whole mentality of just work hard and everything will pay off and that’s what I’ve seen,” Genoot said.
Waiz Rahim, a sophomore majoring in industrial and systems engineering, noted Brandon’s journey has inspired his own work ethic.
“The way he got emotional talking about his entire experience — and as an artist myself — it really reminds you to focus on your content rather than your expectations,” Rahim said.