NYC streets photo project creates a visual census

Associated Press
In this Wednesday, March 9, 2011 photo, photographer Brandon Stanton, wanders the streets of New York City to make photos of people he finds interesting for his project entitled "Humans of New York." The photos go on his website, at humansofnewyork.com, and are linked to the neighborhoods in which they were taken. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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There's something about the guy leaning on a post and checking his phone that catches Brandon Stanton's eye. So he stops, asks if he can takes a photo, clicks and continues on his way.

Stanton's been doing this for the past half an hour, walking the streets of the city, looking at the people he passes, stopping some and asking for a photo. And, surprisingly, in a city known more for its hurried pace and less for its patience, most people he asks say yes.

"New York, there's a lot here, so why not be part of it," said Angel Ramos, the 49-year-old man whose photo Stanton took, when asked why he had agreed. "If you're going to freak out with things like that, you're going to have a problem."

It's all for a project that Stanton has been working on for the past several months, called Humans of New York. He's spent hours walking the streets of the city, capturing images of the people he sees. He's amassed about 1,700 images and plans to take that number up to 10,000. The photos go on his website, linked to the neighborhoods where they were taken. The goal is to create a map of the neighborhoods using the images of the people he's met as a kind of visual census of who makes up New York, the nation's largest city, with more than 8 million residents.

Stanton said the photos can bring people together in the city, which, despite the crowds, can be an isolating kind of place.

"I just kind of hope that they provide a way for people to connect to the people that are passing them on the streets every day," Stanton said. "In a city where people are streaming by you at all time, it's really one of the places where people live the most anonymous lives."

Stanton, 27, is a recent arrival to the Big Apple himself. A history major, he spent the last few years in Chicago working as a bond trader. But he took photos in his own time and, after losing his job, began to spend more time with it, focusing on the images of people on the street he found so compelling.

Arriving in New York last fall, he found the perfect place to take more photos even before the project became a formal idea. As part of his efforts, he estimates he's probably walked about a thousand miles and covered a lot of Manhattan and some of Brooklyn and Queens.

At first, getting people to agree to have their photos taken was a struggle, he said.

"When I first started nearly everybody turned me down," Stanton said.

He struggled to figure out what he could say to put people at ease but realized it wasn't so much about what he said as his overall energy in approaching them. Now, he said, he's calmer in his approach, usually simply looking people in the eye and asking if they mind him taking a photo.

"I've gone from pretty much getting turned down by eight out of 10 people to very rarely getting turned down," he said.

Over time, the nature of the project also has changed, Stanton said. He started out trying to shoot as many images as he could, trying to get to 10,000 images quickly. Then, as he started posting his images to his website, he began adding written bits about the interactions he'd had with the people in the pictures. People seemed to like reading his snippets, so he began expanding them.

Now, he spends more time with some of the people he photographs, getting into conversations that he then spends several hours writing up and posting to his site.

"People seem to really be responding to deeper stories of these people and the interactions I'm having," he said.

It will take some time before Stanton reaches the 10,000-photo mark, but he doesn't see that as the finish line.

"That's one thing that's really evolved," he said. "I don't see an end to it."

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Online:

Humans of New York: http://www.humansofnewyork.com

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