Exclusive Interview with 'Humans of New York' Creator Brandon Stanton
The Profile interviewed the 'Humans of New York' creator on the secrets of his craft.
Good morning, friends!
I recently interviewed Humans of New York (HONY) creator Brandon Stanton. You may remember that I recently published a Profile Dossier on him titled, "The Photographer Who Captures Our Humanity."
On a personal note, I've been eager to interview Stanton for years. We are both alumni of the University of Georgia, which is where I first heard his story. In 2012, I was working at the student newspaper, The Red & Black, when a colleague profiled Stanton about Humans of New York.
At the time of the profile, HONY had 64,000 fans on Facebook. Today, it's grown to a community of more than 25 million.
I'm excited to share with you my conversation with Stanton below. He doesn't typically do media interviews, so this is one of the most comprehensive Q&As he's done in recent years. It was an amazing conversation about his process, how he conducts his interviews, and why people are willing to trust complete strangers with their most intimate secrets.
If you enjoy the interview, please share it on social media so more people can see it!
Thank you guys, and I'm excited to hear your feedback.
Not convinced? Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
Q: You write: "Truth is often spoken haltingly. With pauses. Like it's being dug up, one spoonful at a time, from somewhere deep." How does it feel to be on the receiving end of someone's heavy truth?
STANTON: People often ask me, "How do you listen to these sad stories over and over again without being affected?" I've done series in pediatric cancer wards and I've done series where I spent weeks with refugees, but I think there's something about a really good interview that's about the exchange. It's not just directed one-way, where you're asking questions and you're getting answers.
I think confronting a person on a very deep level and pushing them on things that other people don't push them on gives them the respect of listening very intently. Challenging somebody is a form of respect because it shows that you're listening so closely that you're noticing inconsistencies in their story.
So you're pushing them on it and you're pushing them to explain — not just to you but to themselves — why they've been holding this belief and why they've been thinking that. When you come from a place of such deep listening, there's no question that you can ask that's too private, too confrontational, or too personal because they can sense it's coming from this authentic place of pure curiosity and pure interest as opposed to asking these questions as a means to an end.
That place doesn't get reached in every interview, but it gets reached in every interview that makes it on the blog. There's something about knowing that I am benefiting from hearing this story and this person's also benefiting from telling this story. More often than not, at the end of the interview, both of us are thanking each other. I'm thanking them for telling the story, and they're thanking me for listening.
No matter how sad the story is, you feel like it was a very healthy thing for both people involved, and that's a good feeling.
And that's how a lot of the people who read the blog also feel, right?
And that's the interesting part of it. For me, when the conversation is over, so much of the magic has already happened. It's in the moment. It's on the street. It's these moments where you're going to places in somebody's mind with them for the first time, and it's good for them, and you're there watching it. It's a powerful thing, especially when it's something someone's been avoiding confronting for a long time. It's a magical thing.
The success of Humans of New York has been about translating the magic of what happens on the street in the one-on-one interview to the blog. But the magic's over before I even start typing, you know what I mean?
It's about re-constructing [the interview] in a way that maintains the person's voice and intent, while the photograph maintains their emotion. I like to capture people while they're talking because I want the audience to be there and feel what it's like to sit and listen to that person. The better I've gotten over the years, the more impactful the work has become.