TO SHARE IS HUMAN Brandon Stanton apologized for being 10 minutes late for a recent phone interview — “I was outside playing with my daughter and I forgot about this call!” — and then explained that he was moving from room to room to escape “commotion” in his house: “There’s someone here working on the roof.”
Yes, the creator of the Humans of New York photoblog that spawned four books and a television series is, in fact, human. He speaks with a drawl reminiscent of Owen Wilson’s circa “You, Me and Dupree” and has an elocution coach’s way of enunciating every letter in a word, including both t’s in “important.” And now the Georgia native is back on the hardcover nonfiction list with “Humans,” a collection of photographs of and conversations with strangers on the street in more than 40 countries.
Starting in Iran in 2012, Stanton worked with over 200 interpreters to collect stories from every corner of the globe. He says, “On the streets of New York, an interview takes over an hour. Through an interpreter, everything takes twice as long.” Finding the right translators was a challenge at first; Stanton says he learned that proficiency in English was “actually a secondary skill set” to empathy. “You need to love people,” he explains. “The person needs to feel that you care about what they’re saying, and if they are telling you about something they went through, that you are moved by it.”
Stanton doesn’t have a standard list of interview questions. Instead, he has “entries” intended to spark meaningful discussion — for instance, “What is your biggest challenge right now?” or “How is your life different than you expected it to be?” He says, “If you find the burden someone is carrying, you find the thing they can speak to with the most power and weight. That’s where their story is.”
As he listened to tales of triumph and tragedy and documented smiles and tears from Awkwamufie, Ghana, to Passu, Pakistan, to Duhok, Iraq, Stanton never imagined his book would land in a locked-down world. He says, “I think there’s something timeless and inherently good about having conversations with people on the street. That ‘Humans’ would happen to come out at a time when we could not talk to people and we could not travel was completely unplanned.” Stanton continues to conduct interviews for his blog via Facetime but, he says, “There’s something about the magic of having a deep conversation with a random person that I do miss.”