Book Review: Fisherman casts his line among N.Y.’s sea of faces

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICENovember 10, 2013 

  • ‘HUMANS OF NEW YORK’ by Brandon Stanton; St. Martin’s Press ($29.99)

Here’s how Brandon Stanton spends several hours each day: He walks up to total strangers in New York City, requests permission to take their pictures and then asks questions so personal they might make Oprah Winfrey blush.

“What was the saddest moment of your life?” Stanton asked Jonathan Cummings, a 29-year-old from Queens who was loading crates of beer into a restaurant in the East Village on Tuesday. Cummings, who had just agreed to be photographed and seemed charmed by Stanton, didn’t hesitate before giving an answer. (It involved an arrest after a brawl in Las Vegas.)

With a combination of disarming folksiness and passable — although admittedly inexpert — photography skills, Stanton has achieved one of the most unlikely success stories in a city filled with them. After posting pictures and quotations on his Facebook page, Tumblr blog and website, HumansOfNewYork.com, he has amassed more than 1 million fans in three years.

Now, hundreds of those pictures and interviews have been compiled into a book, “Humans of New York,” which has become an instant publishing phenomenon. After its first week on sale last month, the book landed in the No. 1 spot on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list.

During an event at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, Stanton attracted such a crowd that the store ran out of his books.

Stanton — a hybrid of interviewer, photographer and eager chronicler of street life — said this week that he was still stunned by the success of his book, which has more than 145,000 copies in print.

“It seemed like a stupid idea, just taking pictures of people on the street,” he said. “But there’s a comfort, an affirmation, a validation in being exposed to people with similar problems.”

Stanton is a 29-year-old Georgia native with no training as a journalist. He has owned two cameras in his life and admits he has never learned the technically correct way to use them. When he moved to New York in 2010, he was friendless, nearly broke and recently relieved of his job as a bond trader in Chicago.

In the three years since, he has transformed himself into a recognizable face (fans approach him several times a day) with a healthy income unusual for a young, inexperienced photographer.

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