HUMANS OF NEW YORK

We’ll speak with Brandon Stanton, the man behind the viral sensation.

Aired on October 22, 2019 & February 13, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> BRANDON STANTON TRADED SECURITIES ON THE CHICAGO BOARD OF TRADE FOR THREE YEARS UNTIL THINGS WENT IN HIS WORDS REALLY BAD.

AFTER HE LOST HIS JOB HE MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY WHERE HE STARTED THE BLOG HUMANS OF NEW YORK IN 2010.

FAST FORWARD TO 2015 AND BRANDON STANTON IS A NUMBER ONE 'NEW YORK TIMES' BEST SELLING AUTHOR WITH OVER 50 MILLION FOLLOWERS ON FACEBOOK.

HE'S PHOTOGRAPHED AND INTERVIEWED THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ON THE STREETS OF NEW YORK CITY, HAS BEEN INVITED TO THE OVAL OFFICE BY PRESIDENT OBAMA, AND HAS BEEN NAMED ONE OF THE 30 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET BY 'TIME' MAGAZINE.

BRANDON'S BOOK IS 'HUMANS OF NEW YORK STORIES' AND HE JOINS ME NOW.

BRANDON, THANKS FOR COMING.

THANKS, RAFAEL.

YOU ARE A GEORGIA BOY, RIGHT, GREW UP NEAR ATLANTA?

YES, SIR.

SO WHY DID YOU COME TO NEW YORK CITY AFTER YOUR IGNOMINIOUS END IN CHICAGO?

I WAS QUITE RANDOM.

I WAS TAKING SOME TIME OFF, I GOT FIRED AND I WAS JUST GOING TO TRAVEL TO A FEW DIFFERENT CITIES AND PHOTOGRAPH, JUST FOR ENJOYMENT, AND NEW YORK CITY WAS ABOUT THE FOURTH CITY I HAD GONE TO.

I HAD NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE.

I WOULD SAY THAT ABOUT TWO MONTHS AFTER I SAW NEW YORK CITY FOR THE FIRST TIME I WAS HERE WITH THE GOAL OF PHOTOGRAPHING 10,000 PEOPLE ON THE STREETS OF NEW YORK.

THAT WAS YOUR ORIGINAL GOAL?

THERE WAS A VERY QUICK ACCELERATION IN MY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CITY, YEAH.

WHY DID IT DEVELOP?

I HAD LISTEN TRADING BONDS FOR ABOUT TWO YEARS AND THINKING ABOUT MONEY AND MARKETS FOR TWO YEARS AND I HAD NOTHING TO SHOW FOR IT, I LEFT WITH NOTHING.

I DECIDED I WAS GOING TO SPEND THE NEXT PERIOD OF MY LIFE FOCUSING ON NOTHING BUT MY TIME AND SPENDING MY TIME ANY WAY I WANTED TO.

WHAT I ENJOYED DOING AT THE TIME WAS TAKING PHOTOS.

SO MY FIRST GOAL WAS TO FIND A WAY TO MAKE JUST ENOUGH MONEY WHERE I COULD PHOTOGRAPH ALL DAY LONG.

I HAD THIS KIND OF WEIRD IDEA, I WILL DO IT MASSIVE PHOTO PROJECT WHERE I WILL TRY TO PHOTOGRAPH 10,000 PEOPLE IN NEW YORK CITY AND PLOT THEIR PICTURES ON A MAP AND THAT IS NOTHING LIKE HUMANS OF NEW YORK IS TODAY, BUT THAT WAS THE FIRST IDEA THAT GOT ME TO NEW YORK CITY AND GOT ME ON THE STREETS EVERY DAY DOING THE WORK.

YOU WOULD THINK THAT NEW YORKERS WITH OUR REPUTATION OF BEING SO RUDE AND SO DIFFICULT, THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE MOTIVATED TO CONTINUE, TO STOP STRANGERS ON THE STREET.

IT'S HARD.

YOU KNOW, BACK WHEN I FIRST STARTED AND I HAD NO SUCCESS IT WAS REALLY HARD, YOU KNOW, NOBODY IS PAYING ATTENTION, MY FAMILY THOUGHT I WAS CRAZY, I HAD NO MONEY AND I'M TRYING TO STOP PEOPLE ON THE STREETS TO TAKE THEIR PHOTOS AND THEY'RE BEING RUDE.

IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT, YEAH.

YOU ARE A PHENOMENAL SUCCESS.

15 MILLION FOLLOWERS, MORE THAN 15 MILLION NOW, I DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH, IT CHANGES EVERY DAY ON FACEBOOK.

BEST SELLER, 'NEW YORK TIMES' BEST SELLER.

WHO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE SUCCESS?

WHY DOES YOUR WORK SEEM TO RESONATE SO MUCH WITH PEOPLE?

I THINK IT'S THE COMBINATION OF TAKING A RANDOM PERSON ON THE STREET AND TAKING THEIR PHOTOGRAPH.

IT BEING THE PICTURE OF A COMPLETE STRANGER.

THEN I SPEND 30 TO 45 MINUTES WITH THAT PERSON, ASK PERSONAL QUESTIONS, WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST STRUGGLE, WHAT DO YOU FEEL MOST GUILTY ABOUT THIS LIFE, WHAT'S YOUR GREATEST WEAKNESS, WHAT WAS THE SADDEST PART OF YOUR LIFE.

I FIND OUT VERY PERSONAL STORIES AND PERSONAL DETAILS ABOUT THAT PERSON AND LATER ON WHEN I SHARE IT WITH THE AUDIENCE I THINK THE REASON THAT SUCH A LARGE GROUP OF PEOPLE HAVE GATHERED AROUND THIS WORK IS THAT THERE'S SOMETHING VERY POWERFUL ABOUT SEEING SOMEBODY THAT YOU DON'T KNOW BUT THEN HEARING A STORY OR SOMETHING THAT WAS SO PERSONAL THAT THEY MIGHT NOT HAVE TOLD IT WIFE.

WHAT'S THE SADDEST STORY AND SADDEST PHOTOGRAPH YOU HAVE TAKEN?

IT'S SO FUNNY BECAUSE I ALWAYS ASK PEOPLE ULTIMATUMS WHAT WAS THE SADDEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE AND WHAT WAS THE HAPPIEST MOMENT.

THEY ARE HARD QUESTIONS TO ANSWER.

SO, YOU KNOW, I'D SAY PROBABLY THIS RECENT TRIP I DID, I JUST GOT BACK FROM EUROPE WHERE I WAS INTERVIEWING SYRIAN REFUGEES, IT WAS THE SAME PROCESS, I WOULD ASK THEM THE SAME QUESTIONS I WOULD ASK PEOPLE ON THE STREETS OF NEW YORK CITY, WHAT WAS THE SADDEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE, ALMOST ALWAYS IT HAD TO DO WITH WAR, THOSE STORIES WERE PARTICULARLY HEARTBREAKING.

AND THE FUNNIEST.

KIDS.

KIDS ARE UNINTENTIONALLY FUNNY, THEY ARE 100% SINCERE WHILE THEY'RE SAYING THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING YOU EVER HEARD AND THAT ALWAYS GETS ME.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT AS YOU TOLD ME BEFORE WE SAT DOWN THAT A THIRD OF THE PEOPLE STILL DON'T KNOW -- TURN YOU DOWN, AT LEAST IF THEY ARE -- NOW THAT YOU'RE FAMOUS AND A LOT OF PEOPLE RECOGNIZE YOU, DOES THAT CHANGE THE DYNAMIC WITH YOUR INTERACTION WITH YOUR SUBJECTS?

IT DOES.

I WAS WORRIED ABOUT IT WHEN HUMANS OF NEW YORK FIRST STARTED GROWING FAST AND I STARTED TO GET RECOGNIZED ON THE STREETS I ASKED MYSELF HOW IS THIS GOING TO AFFECT THE PROCESS?

ARE PEOPLE GOING TO BE TOO SELF-CONSCIOUS OR SELF-AWARE, ARE THEY GOING TO BE SCRIPTED ANSWERS, I FOUND THE NAME RECOGNITION OF HUMANS OF NEW YORK ALLOWS ME TO INTERVIEW A LOT MORE PEOPLE THAN I WOULD BE ABLE TO INTERVIEW BEFORE.

A LOT OF TIMES A GRUMPY OLD MAN I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU.

THAT WOULD BE ME.

YOU ARE NOT OLD AND YOU ARE NOT GRUMPY.

BUT I WOULD STOP SOMEBODY AND I WILL SAY, YOU KNOW, I'M SORRY, OKAY, WELL, IT'S CALLED HUMANS OF NEW YORK CHECK IT OUT LATER.

WHAT DID YOU SAY?

I WILL SAY HUMANS OF NEW YORK CITY.

OH, MY GRANDSON TOLD ME ABOUT THAT.

I'M ABLE TO INTERVIEW A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT I WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO INTERVIEW BEFORE AND I FOUND THAT EVEN WHEN PEOPLE KNOW THAT 15 MILLION PEOPLE ARE GOING TO READ THAT NIGHT, YOU KNOW, THERE'S STILL A LEVEL OF COMFORT THAT YOU CAN ACHIEVE IF YOU ARE JUST TALKING WITH THE PERSON ONE-ON-ONE AS IF YOU ARE HAVING A CONVERSATION.

IF YOU TALK LONG ENOUGH EVENTUALLY THE PERSON FORGETS THEY'RE BEING INTERVIEWED AND IT JUST BECOMES A CONVERSATION.

SO I'M ABLE TO GET VERY NATURAL ANSWERS.

BRANDON, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING A CONVERSATION WITH ME.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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