Interview with Brandon Stanton ~ HONY

Brandon-Stanton on Jarvis
HONY stands for HUMANS of NEW YORK. It’s my favorite FB page and a New York Times bestselling book. In the following Chase Jarvis interview with the creator of HONY, Brandon Stanton, on Feb. 19th 2014, we get a chance to hear about the strategies behind the wildly successful daily photo commentary of everyday people in New York. The reason I’m inspired by HONY and the way Brandon works is that he follows the model that can get to the heart of a person’s life story, in only a few short minutes: being open and non-threatening, and asking a meaningful question. I love this interview, because it gives so many tips that anyone can apply in virtually any situation where they want to create more meaningful HUMAN relations.

To watch the entire 90-minute program, check out Chase Jarvis’ website at http://www.chasejarivs.com/live. You can see many more amazing interviews there as well. Follow Brandon at https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork.

Q: How did you start in order to get where you are now? “Tiny steps, doing what you love. I really enjoyed doing photos. I always saw myself as a creative person. I moved to New York with a goal: 10,000 portraits. For six months I treated it like a job. Telling people, I’m an artist, I’m a photographer. Just flipping that switch made all the difference. All I did was take photos.”

Q: What are some of the STRATEGIES you use?

-Set a goal: 10,000 photos;

-Set aside time: two hours a day;

-Stop and talk to 10-12 people every day;

-Post 5 photos on FB daily;

-WORK HARDER than anyone else;

-LOVE what you do (be your own #1 fan first);

-If something works, do more of it;

-Ask questions, and then follow up with more questions!

Q: What are some of the regular questions that you ask?

-“What’ your greatest challenge right now?”

-“What was the happiest moment of your life?” (Saddest, scariest…)

-“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”

Q: Why does HONY have such a universal appeal? “I want to create a culture of positivity, celebration and support. I try not to focus on the universal appeal. I’m just one dude with a camera. What can you do to stay centered? Focus on working 2 hours every day, stopping 10-12 people, and taking 5 photos every day. These are the things I can control. If I get philosophical about it, so much of social media is stage managed. You get the version that everybody wants you to see. HONY is very unstage-managed. I’m just a dude walking around having conversations with people. They let their guard down, and they’re really honest. You get honest, refreshing glimpses of people. There’s a paradox on the street: it feels sort of anonymous, even when they know that 3 million people are going to see it on the internet. However, if there’s even just 1 friend standing next to them, they clam up. There’s something about talking to somebody who doesn’t know your history, who doesn’t have all these preconceived judgments about you. People feel very very comfortable being completely open with someone they don’t think has any preconceived notions of them.”

Q: How has HONY changed since you started? “At first, I looked for visual clues~ interesting-looking people. Now I just look for people who are alone, who I can talk to. I spend a lot of time trying to draw out the interesting story. I follow my natural curiosity. I have no stigma about what to ask. I never censor myself or my questions because I’m afraid of somebody’s reaction. People really appreciate it. We’re surrounded by people who don’t ask us those deep real questions (they’re taboo). Every single thing we’re holding in because people won’t ask us those questions, other people are holding in too. When somebody tells me this sad, tragic story, 60 people had the exact same thing happen.”

Q: What do you look for, and how would you define HONY? “I try not to look for anything in particular ~or put people into the context of my view of humanity. No preconceived notions. About HONY, I’d rather not define it. The moment I define it, it will lose something.

Q: What makes a post popular? “Honest is the guage about how good a post is. Honesty vs concealment. I can tell when a person is really open. Open energy. They’re searching their mind, they’re honestly and openly participating in the process. That’s engaging to the audience. I know for a fact that was the highlight of their week. The human interaction.”

Q: How often do you get rejected? “At first, 2 out of 3 people said no. Now, 1 out of 3 people say no. I don’t think it’ll ever get any better than that.”

Q: Has there been any heartbreak along the way? “When I get the great photo, and people don’t have time or want to talk. But I’ve been really lucky by the warm response to HONY. I’m a sensitive dude. The reception has been so positive! I keep waiting for it to turn. So far, it’s been overwhelmingly supportive. I try not to say much, or give an opinion often. About .01% get mad at me when I make a mistake. That’s 300 emails and it feels like the whole world is coming down on me. So I like to stay in the background as much as possible. I prefer it there.”

Q: Do people ever ask you to take their comment or photo down? “It’s a lot of pressure. Being on HONY is also very intimidating. I won’t change their caption, but I’ll immediately take the picture down if they ask me to. It’s only happened 3 or 4 times.”

Q: How about doing a HOMELESS of NEW YORK? “HONY is broad enough to incorporate a cross-section of people. I don’t want to focus on any one group exclusively. I don’t want to focus on their homelessness. For example, I ask, What books do you read? 24 hours after the Boston bombing I spent 1 week talking to people there all day with the single goal of NOT asking anyone about the bombing. In Tehran, I did street portraits and didn’t ask a single person what they thought about America or their govt. I asked about their kid brother or their private life.”

Q: How do you stay centered? “I wear the exact same clothes all the time. I spend time with my four best friends from high school. People were paying attention, and I was doing what I loved. That happiness didn’t require anything special, just time. I’m happy. I don’t want to create complexity. I just try to change as little as possible, hang out with the same people, and laugh at it.”

Q: Have you grown? “I’ve had conversations with about 10,000 people about very deep issues in their lives. These interviews always come back to me. I always remember the captions.”

Q: Why are you ruthlessly simple (single-minded)? “I can afford to stay simple because the stories are what keeps the interest. I put up 5 posts a day. I focus on the things I can control. I want to be able to say that I work harder than anybody. I’m serious about keeping that commitment for myself and for my audience.”

Q: Can you show us how you talk to people? “I always try to approach people as calm and non-threatening as possible. I always take off my hat and scrunch down ~ I mean, I’m 6’4″~ and my friends laugh because my voice always goes higher. ‘Excuse me. Do you mind if I take your photograph?’ I take a full-body photo. Then I ask a question, ‘If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?’ I’m always looking for stories~ not opinions. So tell me about the time that you had the most difficulty controlling your world?” (Robin: Follow-up questions!!! Yay!)

Q: Can you give any advice to aspiring people out there? “All advice is geographical. What’s the story underneath people’s opinions? The heart of HONY comes from the follow-up questions~ (YES!!) someone really interested, and really listening.

Q: Tell us about the book: “We started pitching the book at 280,000 followers. Only 1 publisher made an offer (out of 6). I knew people loved HONY. The system is so resistant to trying new things. They all said, ‘It’s too regional,’ or ‘photo books don’t sell.’ I knew a ton of people would buy it. All I could think of was, ‘I’ll show you guys!'”

Q: What kept you going all that time? “If you have just one true fan: someone you don’t know who absolutely loves your work. But you also have to be your own first fan. You have to love your own work enough to work your ass off without getting any validation. There’s somebody out there just like you. Somebody who’s so liberated by what you’re doing. It was so liberating. That’s why I’m so religious about working every single day. It’s been 3 years and I haven’t taken a single day off.”

“When I’m talking to someone, I always try to find what is unique about this person? I text things to myself while they’re talking. I’m always thinking about HONY~ it’s difficult to think of my life as separate from it. I’m big in China now! So I started a WEBO account, and I’m going to start translating the captions into Chinese. If something works, do more of it!”

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OUT and ABOUT in Liege

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I stayed close to home today,  strolling just a few blocks up and back. The first thing I noticed was that some of the houses and shops are sporting Halloween decorations. I suppose so. It’s the 19th of October, after all.  This witch caught my eye, and I went back to get a shot of her. It seemed odd that she was facing the brick wall above the door. Like she had miscalculated and aimed too high. Sigh. 

Right next door was the acupuncturist. Maybe that’s where she was headed. 

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THE JOY of SPEAKING- Conversations with Foreigners (the original STREET MEETS in Korea)

Introduction: Over the years of teaching university students in Korea, I realized one of the best ways to get them over their fears of speaking English was to send them out to the street to meet real people. It was always the scariest assignment, but the one with the most enthusiastic response after the fact. It was a rare student who didn’t come back with an inspired story to tell. Here are a few of them, in their own words.

KMU student after interviewing a foreigner

KMU student after interviewing a foreigner

STORY #1: My Interview with Foreigners 소용덕

Hunting foreigners in Insadong

Hunting foreigners in Insadong

I went to Insadong as my professor said to hunt foreigners. It was so very scary to me. I went there with four classmates. I think I couldn’t hunt foreigners without them. We talked to about ten foreigners. The first time, I was so scared, but by the third time, it was very funny and enjoyable. Most foreigners were very kind and they took an active interest in us. In truth, I had worried about the interview with foreigners because I can’t speak English well, but all the foreigners understood my English, like “How long here?” “When go Canada?” “Why you come here?” I said so much incorrect grammar, but they understood my questions. Now I will introduce two foreigners.

His name is Fabian. He’s from Canada. This foreigner was my first interview. He saw my “English Conversation” Questionnaire. I couldn’t look at it because he wanted to talk, so we just talked about 10 minutes without using the Questionnaire. When I said my major is Electronic Engineering, he said his job was electronic engineer. He liked his job, and he comes to Korea for business. I asked, “What kind of Korean food do you like?” and he said, “Bibimbab and kimchi.” I told him that Bulgogi is very delicious, but he was a vegetarian. He said he likes ice hockey, because ice hockey is so exciting. I asked him, “When do you go back to Canada?” He will go July 17th. He said Canada is a very beautiful country, and he recommended taking a trip to Canada. We had a good time, and I said, “Thank you. Have a good trip.”

His name is Till. He’s from Germany, but he spoke English well, so I asked him, “How do you speak English well?” He said he lived three years in America. I asked, “Do you think Koreans are shy about speaking with foreigners?” He said some people are. He said he liked Korean pancake and Kimchi but I didn’t understand Korean pancake. I asked him, “Korean pancake is Ddeok?” but he said no. Anyway, now I think Korean pancake is Bu-Chim-Ge.
Insadong2

In conclusion: I think I didn’t write many things down. I had so many funny times with these foreigners. I gave expression to my feelings, like “Wow! Really? Ha ha ha! You’re very handsome! Good!” But I don’t know how to write them all here. Anyway, I think this interview homework was so very very very good for me and my classmates. At first I was so scared of foreigners, but I’m not scared anymore. Now I know that speaking English with foreigners is a lot of fun and they like talking to anyone who speaks to them. Thank you for this homework. It was a very instructive experience.

STORY #2: JEFF

With Jeff in front of the old Seoul Train Station

With Jeff in front of the old Seoul Train Station

For the interview assignment in the advanced class, I went out of the school and I took the bus. I intended to go to Seoul station as I guessed that was the place where many foreigners might visit. Jeff Reissman(?) (I wrote it down as he said it, but I’m not sure how to spell his family name) was one of the travelers in Seoul. When he was sitting on the bench in front of the station drinking a soda, I approached him with a hello. I had a nervous mind when I said hello, so I hesitated, “Uh, Uh…,” but Jeff answered me with a nice manner. I could feel he wasn’t someone who’s afraid of talking to somebody new.

Jeff said he was visiting Seoul, and he had been waiting for the train to Incheon Airport. I thought he had plenty of time to talk with me, but I decided not to speak too much. I was very careful of my manner at that time, and after introducing myself and my purpose to interview him, I started to ask him questions from my questionnaire.

I was wondering about what feeling he might have had when he first arrived in Seoul. This isn’t exactly what he said but in short, “Seoul is a big city a lot like Tokyo but with more hills, spicier food, and prettier girls.” When he mentioned the Korean girls, I burst into a giggle and asked him why he thought that Japanese girls weren’t prettier than Korean girls. Jeff replied with a big smile, “They are pretty, I admit, but Korean girls are better.”

He continued to talk about his impression of Seoul, especially In-sa Dong. He went there a few hours ago and found a couple of the stationary shops in Ssamzie Gil which looked interesting to him.

Jeff, however, also mentioned a bad impression, that Korean restaurants don’t open at 8 am. His mouth was watering for more Bibimbap in the early morning, but there were no restaurants open at that time so he went to McDonald’s. In addition to that, even though some restaurants were open and every restaurant he walked into had someone cleaning and vacuuming the tables and floor, when they saw his face, they would make an X sign and shake their heads.

Finally, I asked the last question because I didn’t want to keep him any longer. It was, “Is it okay or normal for you to speak to somebody new?” Jeff replied, “I really don’t have a nervous feeling when I meet someone new. I guess it’s because I don’t really care if they like me or not. Most people feel nervous because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or look stupid.” I thought that’s a more natural way to be. I was afraid of meeting someone new because I just don’t want to be embarrassed. After saying thank you for the interview, we asked a middle-aged Japanese couple to take a photo of us in front of Seoul station, and then he went into the station.

I had had a vague feeling about talking to someone new until this meeting with Jeff. He had a clearer thought than me about that, and I admitted I was so afraid of what other people might think of me. However, it doesn’t matter, and I realized that talking to someone new is an interesting experience and everything about it is up to me. It was a good and pleasant experience and I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet somebody new.

* * *

NEW START with ART~ CHU in Liege♥

The hospital CHU in Liege at first glance might not impress. After all, it’s not a beautiful place, looking from most angles more like a war-time garrison, abandonned after the troops went home~ a lot of concrete and not much else. 

But the camera has a keen eye~ especially adept at routing out the less visibly apparent but most beautiful parts of things. 

Bathers, by Picasso

Bathers, by Picasso

The paintings on the walls of the reception area, for example. There are two large frames behind each of the many receptionist’s desks, largely ignored but there. That was a surprise, and if you happen to be waiting in line like most everyone else, you would have plenty of time to notice them, even to walk around and take some pictures so you could look them up when you got home. A lot of Gauguin and Matisse…a few of Picasso and Van Gogh…all absolutely joyous with their riotous colors. How could those secretaries not notice?

Interieur, by Matisse

Interieur, by Matisse



The Plain at Auvers, Vincent Van Gogh, c1890

The Plain at Auvers, Vincent Van Gogh, c1890

The Siesta, Paul Gauguin

The Siesta, Paul Gauguin

Then there are the color coded signs to help patients navigate the maze of corridors~ creative and picture-worthy, at least to this camera’s eye. Inside the huge entrance way, the vaulted glass roof and natural lighting filtering down from high above changes the atmosphere entirely and makes for an airy, light-hearted and fresh feeling as you enter….there is hope for healing after all! 

CHU~ the inner courtyard

CHU~ the inner courtyard



Then there are the people….the most amazing art-works of all.
At the reimbursement office...

At the reimbursement office…

At the Registration desk...

At the Registration desk…

In the lobby waiting for her mom....

In the lobby waiting for her mom….

ART~ It’s a part of our life. We can find it Anywhere. Even inside a hospital where many are struggling to remember that life goes on at all. ART~ it’s a reminder that there is more than just the physical body that needs attention. 

Our spirits and our aesthetic senses need attention as well. Beauty in the environment impacts the way we handle illness, or any other challenge of life, reminding us of something deep within that keeps on glowing long after the secretaries have gone home for the night.

 
 
Art This Way!

Art This Way!

STREET MEETS in Liege

Hello everyone~ Have you been meeting any interesting people lately? Everyone has an interesting story to tell!
  
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Jean and I were grocery shopping tonight and a woman behind us at the register commented on how refreshing it was to hear English being spoken. I have a loud voice, and it really does draw attention over here. She was so bright and her English was also refreshing for me to hear, so I ran back to give her my card after we’d left. 

When she saw it, she said, “Oh! It’s you!”
“Me? Wait, what do you mean?”
“You met my daughter a month or so ago and took her picture. She was wearing a scarf that she told you her mother made, and you said you liked it.”
“Is your daughter a student?”
“Yes.”
“Is she studying physio-therapy?”
“Yes!”
“And was the scarf a circle kind, all one piece?”
“YES!”
“Wow, of course, I remember her! We met at the bus-stop outside the train station.

I don’t know if I ever actually posted her picture on my blog, but I will now.

No one ever leaves any comments though.”

“Well, we will! We’ll be the first to comment!”

I really really hope they do!

THRIFT STORES of Liege

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I can’t really remember when I wasn’t a thrift store shopper (junkie?). There’s something about sorting through other people’s cast-offs…or maybe it’s the excitement of a bargain. 

In any case, I’m definitely into thrifting, and Liege is FULL of ‘brocante’ shops.

This is the window display of my new favorite second-hand store downtown. Every week they highlight a different color. Everything was gray when I first passed by. The pointed gray shoes made me stop and turn around. Hey, wait! Aren’t those your size? 

They are now in my closet, and I am CRAZY about them.

 
 

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My favorite downtown thrift store.

My favorite downtown thrift store.


Today's Finds

Today’s Finds

Today I found a couple of books, one in French for Jean and one in English for my students, and a couple of Mickey Mouse badges that were just too cute to pass up. The books I know we’ll read and enjoy, but who knows what will become of those little Disney patches. Maybe I’ll sew them onto a scarf. Or maybe they will end up in a bag on it’s way to a thrift store. That happens too 🙂