Book Talk: From blog to bestseller - 'Humans of New York'

NEW YORK Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:13am EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Humans of New York," a photography book that began as a blog by a former bond trader has captured the heart and soul of New York with pictures and commentary.

Georgia-born Brandon Stanton worked in Chicago before he was seduced by the camera and moved to New York City. In 2010, he created the Humans of New York blog, taking a photographic census of New York City.

The blog gradually drew more than a million followers on Facebook and half a million on the microblogging website Tumblr, leading to the publication of 400 of Stanton's photos.

Stanton spoke to Reuters about his passion for photography, the book's optimism and how he connects to the people of New York City.

Q: What do you like best about spotting people, taking their pictures?

A: The freedom to control my own time and my own work is very gratifying. So is the opportunity to interact with people in an organic way that's not dictated by some limited job function.

Q: How do you structure your day?

A: I photograph every day for about two or three hours, usually before the sun goes down, which is when the light is best for photography. I do it every single day. I don't like to take days off.

Q: Is there any difference in the way you feel about your work now as opposed to when you first began doing it in 2010?

A: When I first started, it was pure obsession, but now it's a matter of discipline. It's kind of like long-distance running. You have to practice every day. If you take a few days off, it's hard to get back out there.

Q: Your book conveys a spirit of optimism and is quite upbeat. Do you think that tells the whole story of life in New York City?

A: It's interesting that the book comes across that way because I sometimes get the opposite point of view about the Humans of New York blog since I often ask people about their greatest struggle or saddest moment. But if the book feels more upbeat, I think that's OK. So much journalism describes bloodshed and despair and sex scandals. What's wrong with showing the other side of life?

Q: "Humans of New York" does give people a warm and reassuring view of life in New York City.

A: I hear that all the time. People tell me, "Thanks for convincing my mom, it's OK to live here."

Q. Do you ever photograph news in the conventional sense?

A: The book reflects everyday life. When you photograph in poor neighborhoods, you still find people enjoying life. That's the more normal representation.

Q: What have you learned that is valuable to you personally by talking to the humans of New York?

A: It's the whole kaleidoscope ... What I've gathered from the people I've talked with is a breadth of experience and wisdom.

Q: What compels you to document the lives of New Yorkers as opposed to people elsewhere?

A: There are 10 times as many people here per square mile as elsewhere. There's also a culture of expression, and also nonconformity, that allows for many types of personalities. I could do this elsewhere, but New York obviously is where I think I can do the best work.

Q: What's next?

A: I still feel I have a lot of room to grow within the "Humans of New York" format in terms of improving the storytelling and photography. I could also travel and spend two-week periods working in different places. I'd like to do more long-form writing. I majored in history. I love biographies.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Jan Paschal)

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