Last year, the Humans of New York (HONY) photographer and storyteller Brandon Stanton traveled from New York to embark on a journey during which he would share a new type of stories with his +15 million social media followers. The stories would no longer be exclusively about humans in New York City. This time, they would be about humans from completely different parts of the world, parts that are often misunderstood or neglected in other media outlets. And after a year of stories from across the world, HONY finally ended with a trip to Pakistan and Iran.
If you follow Humans of New York on Facebook or on the Tumblr blog, then you have probably seen the changes that have been happening on the blog over the past year. From being a page that told only the stories of New Yorkers, the blog has come to feature humans from all corners of the world, featuring stories from countries like India, Mexico, South Sudan, Iraq, and Jordan. The blog has gone from being the emotional outlet for just one city, to an influential storybook of humans across the globe.
It then comes as no surprise that Iran and Pakistan were picked as the destinations for this summer. These two countries are often featured in Western media for negative political reasons, and are therefore frequently neglected or misunderstood by Western audiences. And after the political and social unrest of this summer, Brandon Stanton really could not have picked a better time to visit Iran and Pakistan. HONY provided an alternative to the negative images otherwise shown in the media during this time.
And as predicted, the project was a great success. With his stories, Brandon spreads a very relatable and human side of people, with topics that find their way into the hearts of his followers. Photos from both countries have included colorful portraits, emotional stories of couples, families and friends, and beautiful background landscapes. Common themes are hopes, overcoming fears or hurdles, and personal memories. The stories receive thousands of likes and comments on Facebook and on the blog every day.
And although it may not be the primary purpose of the portraits, HONY often ends up capturing empowering and unknown stories from the featured countries. Here is one example that received a lot of positive feedback. It is the first of three posts telling the stories of the young architect Leila Araghian and the builder Alireza Behzadi, and how they came to design and build the Tabiat Bridge in Tehran, Iran. It is a short but inspirational story, and one that would not be known to the world without HONY.
Besides spreading the stories of people from under-appreciated and forgotten parts of the world, the posts from HONY also encourage powerful reactions from its global audience. One of the most noted reactions came from President Obama four days ago, through a comment from the official White House Facebook Page on the story below. In his comment, Obama not only empathizes with the story as a parent, but also shows a particularly ambitious attitude to encouraging humanitarians around the world.
This was Obama’s comment:
Displaying personal stories and attracting comments from presidents are only two ways through which HONY’s page positively influences the thoughts of its audience. On the blog, Brandon acknowledges the current travel warnings for Iran, but also encourages his audience to see another side of the country: “The US Government has a lengthy travel warning for Iran. While not advising you to ignore this warning, I do advise that you balance it with direct accounts of Americans who have recently visited the country. These accounts are generally filled with superlatives– the country is beautiful, the history is rich, and the people are eager to demonstrate their almost-sacred commitment to hospitality.”
HONY has become a powerful player in spreading untold stories of forgotten countries, and impacting the thoughts of followers around the world. The world is in great need of personal and empowering stories from each forgotten country and group, and with HONY, there is no stopping these stories from surfacing.