Hey everybody, how's it going, I'm Chase Jarvis. Welcome to another episode of Chase Jarvis Live on Creative Live, here doing a 30 Days of Genius series. In this series I sit down and talk with the most creative and entrepreneurial people I know, people who you know. Some you know, some you don't, some are incredibly famous, others are emerging, but everyone has something in common which is that they kick ass at the thing that they do, more than most. And I sit down these folks and pull what I can out of their brains as actionable insights that you can use to help you live your dreams and career hobby and in life. If you're new to the 30 Days of Genius series, go to creativelive.com/30, the number 30, days of genius, just have to click that blue button and then you'll get one of these interviews with an amazing person in your inbox every morning. And speaking of amazing interviews, you're in for a treat today, because the person that is sitting next to me is someone who you know well. ...
I really, I don't think I've come across anyone who doesn't know his work and his site, certainly in my friends circle. He's a New York Times best selling author of at least three books, maybe more. He is a documentarian, he's a story teller, and he's also a bunch of other things that you're going to find out right now. Please give a warm internet welcome wherever you are in the world, drum roll on your desk, and welcome Mr. Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York.
Thank you, Chase.
Woo. (laughing) (dramatic music) (applause) Hey buddy, welcome to the show. Thank you so much, come on, put it right here. (laughing)
It's good to see you.
I get to see you maybe like every third time I'm in New York, not enough but.
Oh really, so you come to New York two times, (laughing) I thought you let me know every time you came to New York, it's okay though.
Daggers. I'm in and out too fast, and you're in, you're in Bangladesh, or you're in Turkey, you've been on the road a lot too. So, Humans of New York. Certainly, I mean I don't know, the superlatives aside, it's one of the most biggest whatever, it is a force of nature. What I know about this thing is that you started it as some sort of a ethnography many years ago, and since that time, every single day you've been sharing stories about people, started out in New York, and then you've expanded that to be global. So, give us a little bit of a backstory. I mean, seriously I don't know, there's no one in my friend circle who doesn't pay attention to what you're doing, but for the odd folk who are just now learning about you and Humans of New York, your site, tell us.
Okay. Well Humans of New York began most simply when I lost my job and I wanted to find a way to basically structure my life so that I could do something that I enjoyed all day long. I wanted to make just enough money to be able to control my time. And at the time I enjoyed photography. To make a long story short, I had this idea for a crazy, sweeping photography project, where I was gonna come to New York City, photograph 10,000 people in the streets of New York, and then plot their photos on a map. And through the process of doing that, through the process of stopping thousands of strangers on the street, I naturally started conversing with these people, and learning little bits about them.
As you have to do when you take a picture of them. To get the best picture you have to engage them.
And they would sometimes say some funny things, or some wacky things. And then I started to realize, you know, these interactions that I'm having are so much more interesting, and so much more rare than the photos themselves. And so Humans of New York became more about stopping people on the street, and learning about them, or interviewing them, to the point where today, you know, it began with me, and it was like this for over a year, just stopping thousands of people in the street taking their photo. Whole interaction lasted about 30 seconds or a minute. Now I'm stopping just a few people every day. And sometimes can spend two hours with them.
Wow. That's even progressed since you turned turned the cameras on me.
Yeah, I remember that very well. And I mean it's progressed since six months ago. You know, it's just, that is, you know something that I take a lot of pride in. It's that always being tough on myself. Always being tough on my work. And asking myself always, what can I do to make myself like this better. And always trying to move along those lines. So yeah, I mean, at any point in the life of Humans of New York, the work is almost unrecognizable from a point six months beforehand. That kind of evolution, that kind of development, I think is one thing that helps to keep it fresh.
Is that something that you've set out to do? Or you did not know what you set out to do?
I think I'm just, I think I'm just, I get bored easily. And I think that's such a value as an artist. Like I am the definition of ADD. I just get so bored, so quickly. I think it's such a blessing to be the first one that gets bored with your own work.
That's so true. And the flip side, I guess maybe, a different side of the same coin is that a lot of, one of the things that happens to, myself included, and many artists that I know is that you get tired of something long before, I would say your audience, or the people who pay attention to your work. I don't love the word audience, but, the people who pay attention to your work, they're just someone, who's two or three people, or two or 3,000 people, or two or three thousand miles removed from you is just now hearing about it so it's fresh. For every new person that comes across your work it's fresh. And yet if you're always moving, it's very hard to sort of pin you down. But one of the things that I love about your project as a creator myself, is the flexibility that you've built into it. Flexibility with the media, the medium that you're in. At any one given time, like you said started out in photography, and then photography plus words, and now you might be doing some other things, and expanding that, not just geographically. Or not just conceptually, but geographically. Yet it's still, at it's core, the same thing. And that's a beautiful thing in a project. So as someone who, you know, as you self described, ADD, you're always moving, do you feel like, is there some sort of anxiety about never being done? Or is that refreshing? To me, the folks at home, I think want to know that.
Anxiety about never being done. You know I think we've talked about, we've talked before that I do, you know I do feel a pressure to always be progressing, and always be improving, and to always be growing. So you know I think that, and I think a lot of people who are obsessively focused on work to the point where they're able to build something big, you know, kind of share that anxiety. And I think,
that's true. I think it's,
Join the club, Yeah, I think it's synonymous with drive. It's what drives us, you know, I happen to be somebody who always feels the need to be productive. And that has allowed me to basically create thousands and thousands and thousands of these stories over a period of five years. So there is a pressure to kind of keep growing. But you know that's when I'm happiest. I started to learn, I mean you can say, people always ask me, what is the message of Humans of New York, how are humans all alike, like what do we all share. Everybody kind of wants to wrap up, and put a bow on it, and I always avoid answering that. You know I always say that my goal is not to tell the story, or the meaning of humanity. But to learn the story of that person right in front of me. And how that relates to what we're talking about is that I don't think that there is any one version of happiness. Some people's happiness, is to be sitting on a beach meditating, having like Buddha, no desires. For me it's to be moving. It's to be pursuing something. It's to be trying to achieve something. Like I'm happiest when I'm in motion. And you know, I think that that's the cast of mind that's allowed me to create Humans of New York.
Well it's clearly resonate. You started this thing, as you said, five years ago. We've talked about it at length. It should be no secret to the folks at home, I consider Brandon a very close personal friend. Brandon has undertaken this thing. We've talked a lot about the dilemmas of being a creator. The things that that saddles us with. But you started this thing five years ago. You already talked about how it sort of, it's constantly evolving, and in even a short a period of six months, looks different than before. And yet there is a power, that has, that you have created around being the storyteller. And I'd say you personally, I don't know if you feel that it's you personally, or it's the site, or it's the Humans of New York brand, but I'm guessing that you didn't set out with that end in mind. How do you feel now? I'll make one more analogy, and then I'll let you answer the question, which is, when someone becomes very successful in the art world, oftentimes they're not seeking this sort of success, or I'll say the word power, which is a scary word, but someone like Kurt Cobain say, who he set out to make great music. You're clearly setting out to tell stories of people who live in New York and beyond. Yet all of a sudden now, when you speak, everyone in the room gets quiet. How has that affected you, or your work, or how has it not at all, and you're just bulldozing ahead, because you don't pay attention to that shit.
Well I think the paradox is, if there is an influence when I speak, it is because I very rarely speak. You know, you can look at my blog, and I have a social media account, with 17 million followers on Facebook alone. And you can scroll back through thousands and thousands and thousands of posts, and not find a photo of me on the site. Now I put one picture up when a pigeon shit on my face, because I thought it was so funny. (laughing) So there's one picture of me on my site, with huge pigeon shit on my face. I very rarely put my own words in. You know, again this was an evolution. When I was 26 years old, and I'd just moved to New York, sometimes I'd take a photo, and I'd write some commentary. But if you look at the last few years, you don't find my voice. And I mean, am I in it? Yeah, I'm in every single one of those interactions. But the other person is always primary. It's always about the other people. And I call it work without a motive. You know, it's just when you are, your primary purpose is just to tell the stories of these other people. Not to sell anything, don't have any ads. Only way I make money is by selling books. Which you know, is I'm not taking money from any corporations or anything. That's just my work. And then giving speeches. I'm going to Michigan tomorrow to give a speech.
That's how I pay for everything, speeches and books.
And I will just, I'll throw in there, cause you won't say this for yourself, but even when you sell a book, it's not like you have a hundred city book tour, where you're going around and doing, like you're not hustling. But there is this endemic sort of, oh, I have a book coming out, here's a picture of the book. And then, boom, it's like a bomb drops in the middle of a bookstore. And your book goes straight to number one on the New York Times best seller list. And for that I admire. But that's also a little bit of a dose of what I'm talking about.
It's the, you know, it's the paradox of it is, the more that I disappear, the more powerful Humans of New York becomes. The more influential Humans of New York becomes. You know I think, that one of the reasons it stands out so much on social media, is that you know, I have never made it about myself. And social media inherently has always been about turning the camera on you. Look at my food, look where I'm sitting at the ballgame, you know, look at me and this awesome famous person Chase, you know what I mean? And it's like to have an account where somebody is very systematically, and obsessively trying not to show up, but only tell the stories of other people, I think it does stand out. And it gives a sense of trust, and you know, a devotion in the audience. Because I think it's about something that's bigger than me, and the audience realizes it. And it's something that we're doing together. And so you know, if you're question is how has it been that, you know, the sites become so influential, I think a big part of it is, how much I've tried to disappear.
That is, there's something very sweet about it. And I think that's sweet from like a raw human emotion angle.
It's a sweet crowd.
And it really is. And I've been thinkin' about this a lot lately. I go to one of my book signings, just sweet people, you know. (cross talk) We're not the coolest, we're not the edgiest, we're not the most cynical, maybe not the smartest, I don't know, lots of intelligent people. But you go to a Humans of New York event, or a Humans of New York book signing, everybody's sweet.
It's just a nice, nice, nice group of people.
All 17 million of them. (laughs) The party for 17 million and everybody's nice. (laughing)
But I mean it's, there's so much power in sweetness? You know cause these are the people who volunteer. These are the people who donate. These are the people that support you when you're feeling bad, you know. There's so much energy in that group, because we're not too good for anything, you know.
That's a very, very powerful vehicle. It's something that's, I think, one of the things that helps it feel like a movement. And I know I think, I'm guessing you would sort of shun that because it sounds calculated. I'm putting words in your mouth there. But regardless, that is what it feels like as a person, I consider myself a good friend of yours. But I'm also a fan of you and your work. And it does feel, I do feel like I have a special connection to you. But in many ways, I feel like another one of the 17 million people, and it makes me feel like I'm interested in humanity. And that is a primary interest that transcends a lot of personal needs, a lot of personal interests, and a lot of, it feels good, it feels like it's something to be thankful for every day. What do you do, four of those things every day?
I used to.
You've tried to cut back, because I know you wanna do,
Well yeah, but four used to be my magic number. And that was a hard thing to let go of. Because you know, it went from, I had this number in my head, that you know, I was fixed on four pieces of content a day. And I, every single day, for years, (cross talk) Christmas, Christmas Eve, like I had to have my four pieces of content. But the conversations went from 15 minutes to two hours. And it really took a lot of like, unwinding in my psychology in my head to be like, you know what, it might be just one or two a day. But they're different. You spend a lot more time with the person. You learned a lot more about them. And you know, so that's okay Brandon. That's okay, take a break. But yeah, and so, it's, they've become much longer. And it's become shorter, or less of them.
Yeah, as I'm sittin' down with a bunch of people who inspired me and I think inspire millions of people all over the world, there are many characteristics that are the same. A lot of drive, a lot of desire to be different. Not just better. Access is a core value of a lot of these people trying to create access into the lives of themselves or others, or concepts, books or things that they're writin' about. Yet yours is, it's like connection. What do you look at? What is the core principle?
Right, when you say different, what is it about Humans in New York that's different.
Yeah, that's what I'm asking.
Well, and I mean, that's what I, and you can see the entire growth and evolution of Humans of New York revolves and springs out of my realization of what it is about Humans of New York that's different. And you know, after doing it for several months, and I realized, you know, very early on, I wasn't gonna be the best photographer in the world. I didn't have much experience. But after a few months, I had stopped thousands of people on the streets of New York City. And I realized that I'm developing this very unique skill of stopping a random person, and then in a very short amount of time, developing a rapport with that person, and getting into a conversation with that person, that after a few minutes we'll be talking about things that they might not have told their closest friends. And that was what was different about Humans of New York is, that interaction,
That's so powerful. and realizing that. I realized that that's what Humans of New York was. It wasn't photography, it wasn't writing, it wasn't journalism, it was that bubble that I had learned to do better than anyone else, through doing it thousands, and thousands and thousands of times.
Yeah that's the thing that a lot of people don't wanna hear, is that you did it thousands and thousands of times to get good at it.
It's the hardest thing in the world. Every single day I get treated like a homeless person. Every single day, even now. And you know how many times I walk up to people, like excuse me sir, and just like, either have them put their hand in my face, or just like look me up and down, you know. It's very hard to approach thousands and thousands of people just all day long, you know, on the streets of New York City, but I did it. And I earned this skill. And once I realized that that's what Humans of New York was. Humans of New York was me having developed this ability to talk with strangers and learn their stories and tell their stories. I realized it wasn't about New York. And that's when I started traveling. And you know, you're bringing your core competency. You know you're bringing your soul with you when your audience follows. When the engagement doesn't drop when you're going to Pakistan. Or the engagement doesn't drop when you're going into prisons. You realize that the reason that these people signed up, the reason that they hit like, and I respect that like it's sacred. I respect the reason, and I don't think a lot of people do Chase, and I think that is another big reason that Humans of New York was so successful. Is that when someone hits like on my page, they hit like, it's like a contract. I'm agreeing to follow you, for you to give me this. Not advertisements. Not my opinions. Not self promotion. They agreed to follow me so I could give them stories of strangers on the streets. And I could do that anywhere. And not only have I done that everywhere, but that's all that I put on my blog. I don't put anything else. And that's why the engagement rate is so high. Because I've never broken that covenant. I have never put something into the news feed of my audience that they did not want, and they did not ask for.
Wow, I have not heard, I've heard you say a lot of this stuff before, and I have not heard that. I think that's, that is, that's poetic. Now this interview technique that you have developed, the whole, like you said, the bubble, it's cause it's more than an interview. The interview without the photograph, not as powerful. The photograph without the interview, not as powerful. Photograph without the interview, being summarized by you, not as powerful. So it's this sum total of all these very, very interesting, intersection of all these different axes that is so influential, and so powerful, and I can say that for two reasons. One, because as a reader of the, actually I can say it for three reasons. One as a reader of the blog, I feel like you just get right to the point. And it's just very, very incisive without being bullish. The other reason I can say that is because, and earlier, like you have been on the show before, a long time ago, a few years ago. You were in the single, single million digit number now, so your site is in orders of magnitude, literally bigger than last time. But if you remember it was a live studio audience when you did that, it was in Seattle. I mean pulled someone at random. Like we said, alright show of hands, if you wanna, and do you remember the girl? She came up and she sat on the couch. And you did what you do to a stranger on the street to this woman on a couch, and in what had to be like 25 seconds or less, you were into her deep, I think she, it was a relationship with her sister, or something, I don't remember the exact context. But it was like surgery and it happened in 20 seconds. That was powerful to watch. This is my third example is when you did it on me. So I'm gonna tell the story now, I'm gonna hijack, he's still here, but I'm gonna pretend like he wasn't here. We're walkin' down the street. It was early on in our friendship. I was like, man, I'm fucking in love with what you're doing, it's just crazy. He's like, oh come on, we'll just. And I just mostly was observing and we were hangin' out and got a bite or something. And we're walking down the street and all of a sudden you turned, and you said, you know, hey just stand here for a second. And you put your camera up and you took a few pictures of me, and I was like, oh God. (laughing) Put on the seatbelt. And you did the same thing to me. And for (rolls the r) 20 30 seconds, you, do you remember what you talked to me about?
Oh, of course, yeah.
I don't remember,
You want me to remind everybody? (laughs)
I don't remember how, like what series of questions you asked, but what I remember was, you asked me, ultimately is was like how come you and Kate decided not to have kids. And where we got to in a very short amount of time, was, my short answer, it was, you know, we're not against kids, but said, if you want kids honey, then you raise your hand, and then we can have kids, and same thing was true for Kate to me. Like if you're dyin' to have kids then, and it was our default mode to not have kids by default. Like, oh what should we do? I don't know, let's have some kids. Because we felt like that was sort of irresponsible. And I shared this with you, you shared it back. And I also, I think there's one other piece of, that had a little bit more edge to it, which is, and sometimes, my friends who have a couple kids, when they you know have an extra beer or two, and we're sittin' down, and they're like, damn man, like you've just got the life, you got this freedom, you can pick up and go anywhere. I love my kids more than anything, but. My experience of being on the receiving end of our conversation was that I had just, like someone had taken a flashlight, and shown it on a piece of me that was really interesting. And I didn't, but I didn't find that piece interesting. I had never really talked to anybody about that. So there's, you know we can go into a little bit more detail because I still get asked to this day, someone's like hey I say your picture in the book, or whatever. But what is it about your technique that allows you to get so deep, and so personal, and shine a light. You're saying things that they may have not ever told their closest friends or their spouse. I think it's things that they don't even know about themselves.
Right, well yeah.
So that's a long lead, and I get it. But to me that's, like I wanna know about that.
I mean I think the, a lot, especially lately, a lot of the most interesting things are, yeah. When you're,
Thinking, like therapy.
It is. I mean the, and I'm starting to use that word a lot more. Is that, you know, I just started to admit myself, after you know, seven of the last 10 people that I've talked to have started crying, and hugged me afterwords, you know. It's like these, really are starting to much less resemble interviews, and much more resemble therapy. And you know I think, one, just comes from a very focused interest from me. You know I have about five questions that I normally lead in with. And a lot of these conversations take two hours. And each one's different. So I mean it's, the interview is not driven by any sort of pre structure. It's all just a very, intense, focused, and a very intense interest in someone's life that I do not think that they are used to having. Because you know so much of our conversation that we have with people we know is very surface level. What are you doing for dinner tonight? You know, how did you enjoy that ballgame? Do you, what do you think about this guy at work? You know to have somebody take an extreme interest in your history.
What's happened to you. What did that make you feel? You know exactly in that moment when you were feeling that, like what thoughts were going through your brain? What did you do after that? Where do you think those thoughts came from? Like why do you think you felt that fear? And to ask people to go back, and not just tell the story of what happened to them. But try to find the origins that underlie the things that they felt, the reactions that they had. Again, it wasn't intended to be like therapy. It all just came from an intense curiosity, that and a desire to tell a story. You know, but at certain levels when your curiosity is deep enough, and intense enough, you're going to keep going, and keep going, and keep going, and keep going with your questions until you reach a level where you're asking questions that people have not asked themselves. And then by doing that, you're getting things, people to uncover and realize, and break through things that they've never broken through before. And you know, I always say, and it is like therapy. The best Humans of New York interviews. The ones that are most transformative for my audience, or people who pay attention,
Yeah, no I think it's fair.
are you know, the ones where at the end of the interview, I'm thanking the person for telling me their story, and they're thanking me just as profusely for giving them that outlet.
It's beautiful. It is an art form. And I don't think people have thought of it as an art form. Journalistically there was, the art of the interview, what this is maybe. But there is something that is completely next level about the ability to ask questions, interview someone, tell a story, take their picture. Like that is a new, to me that's one of, I site all the time, my influences were, it's sweet that we're in New York right now. Because this is even a little bit more prudent. But, or prudent, appropriate, what word am I lookin' for, anyway. That the artists' in New York of the, you could say 50's, but it's really 60's, 70's, and 80's. They were sort of reinventing a new kind of art while they were making art. And the commentary was about the art world. Like Boss Gal taking graffiti out of the streets and putting it into the gallery, and Warhol taking stuff off the shelf and putting it into the museum. There's this sort of a meta layer about that. And is there a sense, do you have a sense of something as profound as making, as defining this as a new art form? How do you think about it?
Well, I mean I, I don't know about defining it as a new art form. But you know you were talking about the interest of taking something off the street you know, the contrast of what is art, you know I think that one souls of honie, is that right now we are in a world that is saturated by stories. I mean what is Facebook, what is Instagram. These are all outlets for people to tell stories, and tell their stories themselves. So I think to, I think the million dollar question is, on a social media platform, Facebook, that is nothing but stories, nothing but stories.
You have a billion people
What is it,
a billion people telling stories.
What is it about these stories that stand out, and are so engaging? And you know, I think that it's, asking people what their weaknesses are, what their doubts are, what their fears are, what their worries, what their guilts are. The thing that we all share, but that nobody talks about. You know what I mean? I think that's what, and that's where the intense focus, and the intense questioning comes out. Is it brings the stories out of people in a way that they would not tell it themselves, if they were to sit down at a computer screen. You know it forces them to think about things and analyze things, and reveal things in ways that they wouldn't pre package it and share it with the world themselves. And you know, by getting that more multi layered, some I'd say, more realistic, more honest depiction of people. It stands out on a news feed, when all you're getting are the highlight reels of people's lives.
Yeah, I remember, (muffled speech with hand over mouth)
You have people, that's one of the things that I feel saddened by, and I personally have tried to change. Be more aware of it, is I set out telling stories about, again, there, none of these stories, those mechanisms that we talked about. YouTube, Facebook, all that stuff wasn't a thing when I started sort of telling stories about my work as a photographer. Sort of this meta thing, instead of just being a photographer, talking about being a photographer. My goal was to help people understand what it was like. And certainly talked about some of the shitty things. But it was very much about, like hey, it's an amazing way to make a living, getting to tell stories with a camera. I'm so lucky, I feel so fortunate. And here I'm going to this place, and getting to meet this cool person. And I realized, that oh my gosh, what I'm, and people are like, oh my gosh you have a dream life. You've heard all of the, you've read 'em on social media yourself. And I had a little momentary freak out about wait a minute now, I am the person who's creating a highlight reel, that everyone else is comparing their, their day to day with, and so how do I tell a story that is authentic, but that doesn't make people feel shitty. Like you wanna be inspirational. I wanna tell a real story. And I feel like there's this moment right now, in the way that stories are being told online, that is very paradoxical. I personally feel conflicted. That's one of the reasons I actually really like SnapChat. Because most of the things that I do on SnapChat are just literally me sitting at home, when I get home at the end of a long day, it's midnight, and I spend you know, 15 minutes just responding to 25, 30 random Snaps that are at me. And it's just, like it's me sitting at home on my couch, and my cat and Kate over there, she's like,
Is that cat still alive?
Dude give it up for Dexter. (laughing and cross talk)
How old is Dexter now?
So I guess my point is that, are you aware of that to the point that you are, like are you actively trying to sort of usurp that, or work around it? Or is it just inherent in the storytelling way you do it.
I just feel a revulsion towards it. I just like, you look at my Facebook profile. My personal profile, it's so ironic. Is that you know, possibly nobody's reaching more people on Facebook than I am. If you look at Brandon Stanton's personal profile, it hasn't been updated in years, you know. It's just a graveyard. And it's just the, you know I do feel a revulsion and kind of, with people who's, try to build their fame on how much better their lives are than everybody else's.
That's exactly the thing, like, oh dude, believe me, I've had plenty of shitty days and so how do you be inspirational in this social environment other than, that's one of the reasons it's so elegant how you've decided to do it is,
Well I don't, I don't do it at all.
But that's what I mean.
That's the thing, it's like me, and that's why, you know, I have hidden, you know, so much. And kind of just, put these other people's stories out. It's I just feel, I feel very much a kind of discomfort of putting myself out there. And it's not even just like, it's not all noble where it's just like, oh you know, I'm, I.
Look, I'm gonna go there right now so.
Yeah, well I mean part of it's comfortable too.
It's comfortable to not make it about me. Because I have so many flaws, you know what I mean?
We all do.
And it's like, by, I've never once said that Humans of New York was about me, or had anything to do with me. And therefore, Humans of New York is, what's the word I'm looking for? Humans of New York is impervious.
To that criticism.
It's bigger, it's more eternal than I, what's the word I'm looking for? Humans of New York can't be brought down by me. Because it's never been about me.
That would be the only way that it could, really is if it became about you, and if you have some sort of deal with yourself to not make it that.
Yeah, it's just like, it's not susceptible, there you go.
That's the word I'm looking for.
I wanna go to a different place now. I do wanna make this interview a little bit more about you the next 10 or 15 minutes.
And I, it's important for me to help the world see that, I mean I love you like a brother. But you're also not the, not some noble creature walking through the woods, you know, in some sort of, you're not holding a seance. You're not Buddha. There's a, I like the competitive nature that you have. Like you want to outwork other people. Wanting to put four pieces of content out, and doing it every day, you said working the holidays, your birthday, doesn't matter what, you're putting out content. So you're in it for the people who have, as you said, made that contract with yourselves. But tell, tell the people who are listening that you are all those other things. It's not just all virtuous. You can't leave it there with me.
Well I mean, luckily, I mean, one way, what is it, the rolling stone gathers no moss? You know I think, luckily, I'm so busy. One way to kind of battle any vices that you might have had in college, is to keep busy, You know, if there is, you know, one thing yet we haven't talked about, I can be a very competitive person. But, you know, I also, I think, have dealt with that, by rooting my competitiveness in something that will not lead to me growing arrogant. You know I am not competitive about being better than everyone else. And this is by, you know very much by force of my thought.
Intention. Yeah, you know, I've decided, you know, I'm a very competitive person. You know but I don't want to be like that. You know I don't want to be trying to be the most famous, or the best, or the biggest, or whatever. I don't, cause that is something that will make you miserable,
Toxic, yeah. and destroy your relationships. Exactly. So what I rooted my competitiveness in, is that I said, you know what, one thing that I can do is, I can work harder than anybody else. And you know it's like we are all different intelligences, we all have different natural gifts. You know we all have different advantages in every different areas. But everybody has the same capacity to work.
Same number of hours in the day for everybody.
Exactly. Everybody has the same capacity to work. So if you're competitive about how hard you work, you know what I mean, that's something where everybody starts at the same starting line you know. And that so, I always said that I, I do not, I will not be out worked. And you know, you can look at that. You can look at,
Even saying you're gonna come to New York, and you're gonna shoot, we're gonna go there next, for the people who don't know your origin story. But you're gonna come to New York, and shoot 10,000 portraits, who says that?
I think it, yeah. And I think it's a very, cause the work is the one thing that you can control. It's the way, you know, and there's so many, I don't wanna name names but, there's so many you can look at, there's personalities, there's very famous people right now that appear to be on the verge of a mental break down. Because they are so narcissistic. And they made everything about themselves. It's all about them. It's all about them. And there's never enough. And it just leads to, it just leads to, completely going off the rails. There's no grounding, if you make it about yourself. You can't control how many people like you. You can't control how famous you are. You can't control how successful you are. So if you pin your competitiveness, and you pin your self value on those external measures, and make it all about yourself, you're going to have a very public Twitter meltdown. Okay.
It's so true. It's so painful. I'm laughing only cause I'm trying to keep from crying. It's so true.
One thing you do have complete control over is your work. So if you bring it from way up here, and bring it down to the ground. Bring it to something earthy, and say you know what, I don't identify myself as the greatest artist of all time, to quote some other people. (Chase giggles) I identify myself as somebody who works very, very hard. And that's what's got me here. And the bigger Humans of New York gets, and the more people tell me that, how much it's affected their lives, and you used the word movement. You know the more the people throw around words like that, to keep my sanity, and to keep my grounding, and to keep my humility, and to keep my focus, I have to ground my identity, and say, you know what, I'm going to keep working as hard as I possibly can. Cause that's the one thing that I know nobody can take away from me, is how hard I work.
It's true, and you work very hard. As someone who knows you personally. I've walked the streets with you one day. And I've watched it. Let's go back to you're a bond trader.
Two years. Bond trader. How did you get from being a bond trader to where you are right now.
So I mean, that was kind of a blip in my life in itself. I was a history major. And I just basically, through a friend of mine, he'd studied finance, and got a great job, and had a lot of belief in me. Got offered this job in Chicago that was very lucrative, and prestigious. And it just was something that I felt like, as a 22 year old kid who didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, should grab onto that rope. And so I did it for two years. It was very engrossing. It was very, I got really hooked on it. It was very exciting. And I obsessed over it. And then at the end of two years I lost my job. And I kind of looked back at those two years.
You wanna talk to me for a second about how you lost the job? Was it just the economy? Or was it, did you tell your boss to go fuck off?
No, I mean the, I guess if you want, I don't know how technical you wanna get.
If you wanted to look at my trading profile, I was somebody who took a lot of risk. A large amount of risk in relation to the rest of the traders in the office. And during times when markets were predictable, that risk was rewarded. Then you know, when markets became very unpredictable, suddenly the more conservative profiles were the ones that were staying afloat. And the risk takers were the ones that were taking it in the face. And so I ended up losing my job.
And then I kind of looked back at those two years of my life. And I said, you know, I spent those two years trying to make money, thinking about nothing but making money. you know I told myself I was gonna make my money first. And get a bubble of security. And then one day do something creative, that was really fulfilling. That was my narrative to myself.
I like this, we'll go there too. I love that.
Even, like I said, oh, yeah even this, even those two years, like I viewed as part of my creative journey. You know I was going to make money that would enable my creativity later on. But then at the end of two years I had nothing to show for it. I mean I did not leave with a bank account. I lost everything I made, and probably a little more. And I looked back at those two years of my life, and I realized that I had no money, and I could never get that time back. And so that's when I made the decision that the remainder of my life, or at least the next six months, until my unemployment ran out, right, was going to be trying to figure out how to make just enough money so I could support myself where I could do whatever I wanted with my time.
So killer. Then you moved to New York. You lived in a, I think you talked about an apartment that barely fit a queen mattress. Is that right?
Well I went, I had a sub lease in, (garbled speech) with three people I didn't know. My room was a mattress on the floor. Had nothing on the walls. No furniture. Nothing. I'd set everything I had in a suitcase. I didn't go in any bars. I didn't to to any restaurants. I didn't really have any friends here. All I did was photograph. Again, because I knew that was the sacrifice I was making. That I was here to do what I wanted to do all day long. And if I was here to do that, if I was sacrificing furniture to do that, then that's what I needed to be doing all day long. And you know, I think, I'm going to speak and the University of Michigan tomorrow and one thing that I always tell college kids, is do not use following your dreams as an excuse not to work hard. Because following your dreams correctly is nothing but hard work. And it's not just a slogan. So many people use following their dreams as a way to get people off their back who ask why they're unemployed. You know what I mean? Oh, I'm tryin' to be a photographer. I'm tryin' to be a musician. Really, how much you practicin'? Oh, well you know, I got together with the guys last weekend and we played for a couple hours, you know. It's like, if you're following your dreams, if you're telling people that you're pursuing something, and that's what you wanna be, is that how you're spending all your time? Or are you sitting around playing video games all day, and doing just enough,
To claim it.
to claim it. And I realize how many people in this city are doing that. How many musicians, and photographers, and people that I was meeting who told me they were doing this stuff. But that's not how they were spending their time. They weren't doing anything. But they were taking just enough photos to call themselves a photographer. So like I really do think that this is America, and you can achieve your dreams. But not if you use following your dreams as an excuse to not work hard.
Go back to Georgia.
Alright, I'm there.
You were, let's call it high school.
High school in Georgia. How do you get from high school in Georgia to the trading floor in Chicago? (chuckles)
Well, by way of college in Georgia. That's one start, I mean,
Born and raised in Georgia?
Yeah, I grew up in Georgia. I was a history major. If you want exactly what happened, I was a history major at University of Georgia and I was volunteering, I was volunteering for Barack Obama's campaign. I was very passionate about Barack Obama back in 2008. And, excuse me, so there was a time where I was reading every single piece of political analysis about the campaign. I was just, everything about that campaign, I was reading was back in the primaries. And you know, there was a point where I knew 100% that he was going to win the primary, just based on me reading every article that ever came out of him. And there was a betting site where he had a 70% chance of winning the primary. And so I took out $5,000 in student loans, and I bet it on Barack Obama to win the primary and got a 40% return on my money, which was like $1,000, it wasn't much. But, I told that story to my friend who was working in Chicago, which is why he thought I would be a good bond trader.
Literally because you bet on a primary?
That's right. (laughs) I guess as I get older I feel more and more squeamish about telling that story, cause I met the President. (laughing through words) Yeah, I bet on your campaign. (laughs)
5,000 bucks on you boss.
So let's talk, speaking of you know, spending time with Obama, you've done so much with the UN, with traveling abroad. Highlight some of those things. What are you psyched about that Humans of New York have given you that opportunity to do. Again I feel super lucky to have had many of these debriefs with you. You certainly gotta have a highlight reel of things, the opportunities this site and working so hard, and being rewarded with the movement that you've created, that it's provided opportunity. What are you psyched about? Not in a, again, I'm looking to actually make this a little bit lighter. So what are some things you've done that you wouldn't have been able to do without the project that you built.
One of the really cool things for me is to be able to go into places that have nothing but a negative narrative coming out of them, and to stop random people. And I say I don't go there to tell a positive story about this country. But I go there and I tell a random story about the country. And in comparison to all the negative news that's coming out, it comes off looking very positive. Humans of New York is very famous in Pakistan. It is very famous in Iran. Those two countries were ones that I was very, very proud to go there and tell the stories. And it was embraced by both countries. I was able to go into prisons. Which was very cool. And tell the stories of prisoners.
You talk about it very passively. I was able to go into, versus what you really do, is you made that happen, you decided that you wanted to tell the story of prisoners.
Right, right. Well, that one did get some facilitation. That was one where I was allowed to. Iran was kind of a, Iran, I was just one, where I just kinda went on my own. Pakistan I had a little help. Prison was facilitated.
But sure, but you certainly, like I want to do this.
Because one of the things you do, is control your time, and to say what you wanna do and you don't wanna do.
Well I mean, I think the, again, I think the stories have the most power and the most impact when they are coming from populations that are generally feared, or misunderstood due to a propensity for only negative stories to come out of that place.
US too, sort of,
Yeah, exactly it's like, you know,
What are the stories that we hear coming out of Pakistan? It's nobody's fault, it's not.
You can't point to,
Well that's important to realize, is that it's not a concerted effort to vilify. It is that our media is incentivized to tell the most dramatic story in order to keep people engaged. And when you realize that the media is incentivized to tell dramatic stories, you ask what creates drama. Conflict, violence, and sex. And that's why the extremes of these things are so prevalent in our media. Especially coming out of a place like Pakistan where all the stories that are coming out are terrorism, angry Mullah's, things that are very sensational and that therefore are good stories. Good as in entertaining.
Entertaining as in direct clips, (cross talk)
And so when you have somebody coming there, just stopping random people on the streets, and just asking them about their lives. And the storytelling isn't incentivized towards the sensational, and towards the extremes. But is incentivized to the person in front of your face, to telling their story, then the stories that come out are, in comparison, extremely positive. And so you know, to be able to do that in Iran and Pakistan, I mean, those are probably the two places that I'm the proudest of going to. And those are the populations, that when I run into on the streets of New York, if it's a Persian, or a Pakistani, those are the groups of people that are most excited to see me. And it feels great.
Wow. I think that's, did you, do you feel like you, did you recognize this through the process of your work, or was it something that you, like did you see the end in mind.
It was very, very little of this is through strategizing. It's through, I don't even have time to strategize. I'm just like, you know, it's just working every single day, and tinkering. And then like all of these insights that I've had into my work are retroactive.
I'm sure you can connect the dots looking backwards.
Yeah, it's like, oh of course, that's why it works. You know, of course, but in reality my day to day was just going out there and stoppin' people all day long, and interviewing people all day long. And just changin' a little bit, little bit, little bit, little bit, this is more interesting. Just figuring out what works. And then when it comes to Pakistan, and when it comes to Iraq, trusting what works, and taking risks along those lots.
That is a thing that I feel, I feel generally like I can lump the people who pay attention to the work that I do to this particular degree of live. There's people who are really trying to start something. Like they're in a job that they don't love, and they want to take that leap, or, I call it zero to one, basically. Not engaging in this creative work, because they were told their whole lives they weren't creative, or because they don't wanna look at that side of them. We obviously believe that creative lie that everybody in the world is creative, and there's creativity in all of us. And then there's a second group that has discovered that, and wants to go somewhere from one to 10. 10 being someone who's really, really highly engaged in this kind of work. And what I'm so moved by on your account is the, just the self awareness that you don't actually, that a voice isn't something that you decide you're going to have, and then claw to get that voice. The voice is something that you, you literally get a voice by doing the work. And then you're like, oh shit. Yeah, I'm standing in my own voice.
Well the, yeah, I mean the most,
So talk to me about that.
Well the most simple way that I can say it is that if I had waited for the idea for Humans of New York, I would have never created Humans of New York. That's my simplest way of saying it. Is that it started with what. It started with a commitment to myself that I was going to find a way to make just enough money to support myself doing what I loved all day long, which was photography. And I love taking pictures. I started taking pictures of people. And I had this crazy idea, well maybe if I take 10,000 portraits of people in New York City and plot them on a map, that project will be inherently interesting enough that it will draw enough attention to my work. Which maybe I'll be able to sell prints. Maybe I'll be able to pay the rent, if I structure my photography in this way. And then I just went out and did it. All day long. And you know I probably just reached 10,000 recently. You know what I mean?
And so by just committing myself to that and getting out there. It was the commitment to the work. That was what was the most powerful, is that I set myself such a huge goal, that it forced me to go out there and work every single day. And then everything fleshed out through that process of having my hands in the clay.
I love, the hanging your hat on work. Is we talked about it already, you just said it again. It made me think of a friend of mine, Casey Neistat, here in New York, puts out a vlog every single day.
Oh, of course, yeah.
And like that's hard work. And a vlog is not like holdin' up your phone, goin' hey, I'm goin' to the grocery store, now I'm going to make some beautiful film every day. You know, sometimes they're longer or shorter, based on his time constraints. You know I've talked to him about he like tries to compartmentalize it a little bit. Cause it's just literally, and he shoots all of his own stuff. But that's like creating sort of this insurmountable goal of putting work at the forefront. And then that's, like shit happens because of that. Like you, you put in the hours, you wanna know how to make stuff happen. Put in the work. And I think the shortcut culture that we have,
Well I think people are also paralyzed by the need to make something great. You know it's like people, oh, if it's not the best idea ever it's not worth doing. And that's why I always say, what got me here was not setting out to create Humans of New York, it was the decision to make just, to figure out a way to do what I loved all day long. Now that's something that's attainable for everybody. And you know I told them, and I don't wanna be that Tony Robbins, you know, motivational speaker that guarantees everyone that they can do exactly what they wanna do if they just put their mind to it, they can do anything. You know, I don't say that. You know, I was lucky enough to get here. But one thing that you can attain, I am convinced. Is that you can figure out a way to do what you love to do all day long. To own your time. And to me that is the most important thing to be able to do. And that I think everybody can do.
Three books you put out right?
Oh, I thought you were asking me to recommend three books.
I'll go there, I'll get there. Again one of things I do want to make this about you, because I think there's so much of a, the movement around Humans of New York, and I feel like this is a really humble, and simple, and authentic way to get to know a little bit more about you. Let's talk about the book for just a second. So you've done a couple of books. The most recent one is one I wanna talk about, do we have one of those here?
Stories? Did I bring it?
No. We'll put it on the screen right here. Or maybe right here, or somewhere over here. Talk about the evolution of the three books that you've done. Stories being the most recent one. Also just went straight to the top of the list, and it was powerful.
Well, they're two completely different books. The third one's a kid's book.
You know, I think that doesn't really fit into the arc in a way that's very enlightening. The two books are completely different from each other. You know if you, cause it's been a five year process, of going from trying to photograph 10,000 people in the streets of New York City, to not even having that number in my mind. Just going out every day now and stopping some people and focusing on telling, you know a very intense story about the person in front of my face. So the first book is completely visual. If you, you know, and like all artists, I almost, like somebody tells me they have my first book, I'm always like apologetically, oh, you've gotta look at the second one. Cause like I don't even recognize that anymore. You know, I don't even recognize that anymore as my work. And it was my most successful book, by far. And it's, to me, that's almost a different person. You know what I mean? It's very visual, lot of quirky colorful characters. A few small quotes. I was just starting to get quotes from people. Sometimes some commentary from me. Which I would never do these days. Sometimes I wrote my own captions. Little quirky, you know, 26 year old humor. Some of it's pretty funny. But, and now, you have the second book. The photography's gotten less interesting. I've actually gotten to be worse of a photographer.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I've lost my eye a lot.
Cause you're so focused on the story.
Exactly. Because I am no longer putting somebody in the context of their background, and looking at colors, and angles, and shapes.
I remember you did that, I was wearing,
Yeah. You're like you got a blue vest on,
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know I've, we're just even looking for a moment and framing a moment that's going on. You know I've stopped exercising that muscle. Because what I'm doing now, is I'm talking with somebody and I'm looking for a facial expression. You know when they're talking, and it's ch, ch, you know, ch ch ch, ch ch. So it's become so much, not like photography, that I've actually, in the five years, I think I've gotten to be a worse photographer. Because I've stopped doing it as much.
Well let me, let me, let me tell you what I think.
Okay, go ahead
I think your photography has continued to improve. I feel like, I'm going back to the thing I was leaning on earlier around, you've actually developed an art form, and it's the story plus the caption. And the story plus the caption is so, it's almost transcendent to just photography. So trying to think about it as just photography, my thing is, a piece of photography and a piece of writing, I think you've sort of made something new and different. And so trying to compare a part of the thing you have now with a thing that you had earlier, that's where I think you're, that's my dropped out PhD in the philosophy of art tells me that about your work. So, for what it's worth.
Yeah, I mean, but you know, part of me even, part of me takes pride in not taking pride in the photography. You know, because I think it's such a visual thing for people to latch on to. Like oh, he takes photographs, he must be a photographer. That must be what he is. And to me the soul of Humans of New York is so much held in the interaction between the person and I, that I think I almost purposely distance myself from having photography skills.
To emphasize that.
Is it a defense mechanism you think? Because you don't wanna be judges on that axis.
Not defense mechanism. Again it's like I almost,
It's more in to something, than away from something.
I think so. It's almost, it's just like, it's my indicator of where I think the value of my own work lies.
I've heard a lot of, you know, friends of mine that are in high places, talk about you and your work, knowing you, actually to be crystal, I was speaking with Arianna Huffington earlier today. And she was like, I love Brandon's work. I love, and you guys can, for those of you that are on the other side, you're in the camera, but for the people on the other side of the camera, we are all like, cool yeah, I'm gonna visit with Brandon a little later. Who said, who are you talking to, you know who's. And there's some pretty cool people on this project. And she was so passionately leaning into you and your work as a New York resident that you know, I'm sure that there's some sort of a connection there. But there's a lot of people at Norton. I think you've done some work with Ed Norton. I've heard him talk on friends of mine's blogs about connecting with you around some charities. Talk to me about that at all. Is that, I mean, we're gonna talk about a Donald Trump post that you wrote in just a second.. You've got Hilary Clinton leaning in on you and your work. Not just because of the Trump thing, but maybe, I'm sure it benefits her. But talk about the your work as an every man and woman's work, and that's the stories that are designed to tell. And as you're shying away from it being about you. You're shying away from, not really photography skills. Are you sort of, is there any part of you that's shying away from the showering of accolades from people who have a disproportionate share of the media and are happy to sing your praises?
I mean I don't have, I don't go to cocktail parties. And I don't go, so I don't have a lot of famous friends. Arianna Huffington is an exception. That's a friend of mine.
Yeah, and she is a friend of mine because she is just a beautiful person that I want to be around so like, just cause like, her warmth.
She's so genuine, so thoughtful.
She's somebody that I connect with. You know as far as, when I talk about the, when I talk about keeping myself out of it, I talk about with the audience, the public side of it. You know what I mean? But I am constantly trying to use my influence to grow Humans of New York behind the scenes. Whether that's working with the White House to go into prisons to working with the United Nations to go to 20 different countries. I was just at a meeting at Memorial Sloane Kettering to do a series on pediatric cancer. Which I'm very excited about. You know these are things that have come because Brandon Stanton has become known from his work. So it's not that I completely shun it. I shun it, I don't project it publicly. But I'm always looking how to make my work better. And you know, the size of the Humans of New York and the size of the audience, you know has allowed me to meet people that can help me with my work. And those are connections, relationships that I don't look down on, I don't shun
Disavow in any way. Because you know, there's so many people out there that can help Humans of New York grow. And so that's not something that I shirk off.
Cool and that's admirable. I like the, and that's actually the point that, in asking that question, I thought that might be the answer. But to me that's a distinction. That you are, you don't wanna be so cool, and so much about the work, that you're not actually interested in it growing. In fact the other way. That's the part I was talking about earlier, about being competitive,
It's like, yeah, behind the scenes. It's like I've got a lot of Chase Jarvis in me. You know what I mean? It's like I.
That could be, it could be construed many ways. (laughing)
I mean I do, just the work itself. You know the aura, I completely keep out of. But you know there is a large infrastructure that underlies Humans of New York's ability to do really interesting work. To be able to travel to 20 different countries, with interpreters, and fixers, and transportation on the ground everywhere.
In risky places.
Yeah that requires facilitation, and contacts, and friends to be able to work with the White House that much. There is a part of me that is extremely strategic and my mind is on the business of Humans of New York. I'm not that pure artist, oh, it's all because then I'll will be constraint. I won't be able to reach as many people, and interview as many people, and do as interesting a work as I can. But again, that's, I don't break that wall. When I'm meeting with those people I don't take a selfie and put it on the blog. And I think that's the big difference. Is that I keep a wall between my work behind the scenes and the stories that I share with millions of people.
How do you measure the success of your work? (sighs)
I mean it's, I mean it's kind of like a cliche, or obvious answer, and it's something that I think a lot of people would roll their eyes on, about, like it's 17 million likes on Facebook. And you say, oh, you're just doing it for the likes. You're judging it by the likes. These are 17 million people who are connecting.
Yeah it's a vote. It's like you say, it's a contract.
Well it's, no, it's not a vote, it's people. It's people, you know. These are people that are hearing the stories of other people and recognizing that their story is similar to when their father passed away, or when they had cancer, or when they were abused as a child. And they're taking comfort from these stories. They're learning from them. They're growing from them. And if they happen to run into me on the street. They come up and they give me a hug, and they tell me about that one that really touched them. And so it's never been about money for me. But I will not be so pure of an artist, to say it's not about audience. Because to me,
It will always provide, it's a relationship.
I mean those are lives. Those are lives that the work's touching. And the thought that I can tell a story of somebody who has never been heard before, that can touch the lives of that many people. Like to me that is a very, very, very good feeling. I think it's a measure of success.
I said it earlier, SnapChat is interesting to me because of this one to one connection with people who I've never met before, and will likely not. You know, there's all kinds of different platforms. I was with some friends just a couple nights ago. And like oh my God, they looked in my SnapChat. And there was just hundreds of people who had sent me a Snap, and I'm trying to answer as many of these people as I can. And I try and time box it, it could be your job, and that's not, I think why people pay attention to what I'm doing, is because of photography or Creative Live or any of that stuff but, I do love, I get energy from, like you talked about, the human connection. Creating is something that other people will connect to. And it's about lives, and about human beings. Knowing that there's a human being on the other side of a post, or a like, or a Snap, or whatever the sort of the mechanism, the connection, and I'm taking this word from you. The connection is that, what gives you juice?
Well I mean, and I think it's, and I would say it's a distinction. That 17 million people are connected to my work, and not to my life.
And I think that it is a, you know, Brandon Stanton has zero social media followers. You know what I mean? But my work, and what I create impacts tens of millions of people. And to me that would be, that's success. And I think that's an important distinguish. Because like I have zero Facebook fans. I don't have a personal fan page. I have zero, but the work itself connects to 17 million people. And then to me that feels good to imagine all those people being influenced, and affected, and changed, hopefully improved by those stories.
What's something that if you shared it now, that most people wouldn't know about you?
I think we've learned a lot of things in this talk, but what's one thing that you're pretty sure that if you shared, most people would, oh wow, I wouldn't think that, and it could be something kooky,
I'm trying to think of a good answer. I'm tryin, I'm trying to think.
I'll continue to stall for you. (laughing) I will give you many examples, like that you like chocolate chip mint Girl Scout cookies, or that you, didn't enjoy going to,
I was the the Black Sea beach.
At the age of four, I was the number one snow skier in my age group in the state of Georgia.
The age of four, snow skier, Georgia? We're you top,
My dad was a ski instructor, so we used to go to North Carolina every weekend and snow ski. And you know NASCAR? NASCAR, how they set up
Yes, the races, yes, I grew up skiing and snow boarding.
Only three four year olds in the state of Georgia managed to go through all the flags correctly. And finish. And I was number one.
And I got some Ray Bans.
You got Ray Bans.
And then every year, I just, I fell down a few notches. (laughing) (cross talk) Until the age of eight, I completely fell off the list. It's all been downhill since then. (laughs)
That's precious. There are a lot of folks who I feel like have taken on, to some degree, they're taking pictures every day, and sharing them. Specifically on Facebook. there's the sartorialist. There are lots of other people who are influenced, or straight ripping off your work, or are influenced by your work.
Well yes, sartorialists was before me. Yeah, he's definitely not one of those people.
And I'm not trying to make that distinction. I think I've said, I'm basically quoting somebody else, and I'm trying to remember who it was. And I think it's an amalgamation of so many different things, but, if you steal from one artist, it's stealing. If you steal from a lot of other artists, it's research. And it's from, I know a guy named Austin Kleon, who's a part of this series, talks about that in a book called, Steal Like an Artist. Which is just how to quote, sort of move through the world and allow yourself to be influenced. Does providing inspiration, to other upcoming photographers is that on your radar at all? You wanna help other people realize that there's stories in every person, and is there other people on the other end of this video or this audio that you know, that you think are gonna be inspired by what you're doin'? It just goes back to the work.
Yeah, as blunt as it sounds, no.
It's all about the work.
Well it's just like, and anything, again it comes down to, do you wanna inspire other people, what message are you trying to give the world. You know, what are you trying to show about humanity. What are you trying to accomplish. Are you trying to start a movement. And again it all comes down to no.
Trying to work hard.
Or just even more basic. I'm just tryin' to get out there and find three stories every single day. You know, every single day. And you know, all of the inspiration, all of the growth, all of the influence, has just been built on top of me trying to be further along when I go to sleep tonight, than I was when I woke up. Yeah, it's all been, you know, very focused on the now as opposed to making some huge plan then trying to fill in the pieces, or build up towards it.
Potentially one exception to what you said. You know, keeping yourself out of your work.
Yeah I don't know if it is the exception, or a couple of exceptions.
The big one.
The big one is writing an open letter to Donald Trump. And in that, you read it on Casey, or Katie Couric, you read it on some other news sites. The note went crazy explosive viral I think. I'll just quote some things that I heard. I'm not gonna quote the source, cause there was too many sources, and I'm not frankly a journalist. I heard that it was the most shared post in the history of Facebook. So you're talking about a thing that has a billion people, you know, a billion and a half active monthly users, and all of them are writing, and they're all writing many, many posts. Sometimes many a day. So we're talking about hundreds of billions of posts. And you have the most shared post of all time. Now you could debate that. Anyone could, but we're not. We're just gonna take that as face value. And that it's been in hundreds of millions of feeds. That my friend, is influence. And that came from Brandon, it was signed Brandon, to Mr. Donald Trump. What made you decide to do that? And you know, what was the before, during, and after of that experience?
Well as a history major, I also follow along very closely with what's going on in politics. And the, I obviously have been forming very strong opinions. Especially about, I mean we have, you know being a history major you read about these demagogues. But in like, my life, I'm 32 years old. In my memory all the politicians that I've been exposed to, you know, Barack Obama with his very hopeful orations. He was in a kind of outlier. But beyond that, they've been very kind of boring, conventional politicians. And you read in these history books about these demagogues. And they seem like something out of the past. And then you watch a man resembling all of these things that you read about, of people who have taken power and used that power to do very bad things, by appealing to people's fear and hatred. And to by tapping into emotion and castigating, and characterizing entire groups of people as threats.
How can you draw a circle around a billion people. You know, I'm sorry.
No and I mean, and that's what they do. Is you create an us versus them mentality. And you basically unify people, not through any adherence to an idea. Not through any vision of the future. But through emotion of anger, hatred, and fear. And you build your mandate. And you build your voter base, based on that motion. And to see somebody coming up and doing that, to appealing to these, kind of these fears, and these hatreds and just demonstrating, basically bringing people to him on the basis of his personality, of the basis of that I'm going to get in there. I'm going to fix everything. Not gonna tell you how to do it. But I'm gonna fix everything. I'll find the best people. Gonna make the greatest deals. And I'm watchin' this, and I'm just seein' this man, straight from the history books, coming up in modern America using the exact same tactics. And these tactics are immoral. They're wrong. They're hateful. He's encouraging violence. He's encouraging racism.
Overtly, I'm going to shoot Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs blood.
Well that was a story he told about somebody who did, that one was a little bit more subtle. His more overt ones, is if you punch somebody in the face, I'll pay your legal fees. (cross talk) That was an overt appeal to violence. And so you know, I'm just watching this. And I'm having a very strong moral reaction. That what I'm seeing is very immoral.
Didn't he say he could shoot, so you could walk down Fifth Avenue, and shoot someone and he wouldn't lose any votes?
Right, it's these, I mean very calculated injections of violence, very calculated. He's not a stupid man at all, he's very smart. In his own way. He's very calculated. Appeals to racism. Very calculated injections of violence, and an atmosphere of fear into his rhetoric over, and over, and over again to develop a following, a very cohesive following that's developed around the motion. And you know, watching him do this, I start having strong feelings. And I again, have never wanted to put myself into my website, and so I'm like building up all these feelings, I know I have this audience of 20 million people, and I'm feeling so strongly that what this man is doing is wrong. And that what this man is doing is immoral. That I'm starting to feel guilty for not saying anything about it. Because I have an opportunity, I have an audience, and I'm not saying anything, because I don't wanna put myself on the blog. I don't wanna make it about me. And I don't wanna take a side, in what I see as a political campaign. And eventually that moral guilt grew to the point where it outweighed my desire to not be political. And so I typed it up and I closed my eyes, and I posted it, and, (slaps hands on leg)
Damn. I think it takes a lot of courage, before we shared a recording, we were talking about it just a little bit. How did you feel before you hit send?
Again, yeah I was nervous.
Do you think, is that part of your work or is that separate from your work?
I'd say that's separate from my work.
Is it interesting that it's the most shared Facebook post of all time even in thousands of posts. And something that is not your work, is the most popular of all time?
I mean why would you separate it from your work? Just because of the purity of the work?
Because that was my voice.
Not the voice of the,
Yeah, yeah, that was not a story, which I thing what Humans,
Well I'll tell you, I think it was incredibly courageous buddy. It was freakin' incredible. And let's take the politics out of it for a second. And talk about the, I love, to me the morality outweighs politics. And whether that's a justification, or story we're telling one another, or if it's something that clearly you feel and felt that. I think you were super articulate in the news about it. It's that moment before you hit send on something that you know is, that you have personally wrestled with, that's the things that I'm hoping the folks at home can take away. Is that this, before you do acts that require courage, or introspection,
And I thought it was gonna be a trade off. That's the crazy thing is that it was the, most shared post I've ever had. I think I put on 200,000 new followers that day.
Can we get the stats? Just real quick? (someone speaking in background) Two million?
[Off Camera Female] Sorry, two million.
2,850,000 shares or likes?
[Off Camera Female] They were likes.
Likes. Gosh, millions of shares, I know that.
I thought it was going to be a trade off. I though it was going to be me doing this thing that was going to be a moral relief to me. Okay, I did it. But I thought that it was actually going to set me back a little bit with my audience, for injecting what I believed a lot of people would see as a political opinion. And to this blog that has been nothing, about nothing but telling the stories of other people. So like when you know, it came from, in retrospect you know, it's brought so much publicity to Humans of New York. But I can look back and be very confident, and very satisfied, knowing that it came from like a very pure moral place.
And that I actually thought it would be bad for me. But you know I still did it, because I felt so strongly about it. And yeah I was nervous before I posted it.
There's no words that I could wrap around that to explain it but I think that within that story there is clear explication of how y'all in the world should feel about the stories that you're compelled to tell. Or the acts that you're compelled, intuition is very, very strong to things. It's a thing that's guided me personally. It's guided my work. It's guided my morality. And I just tend to, I wanna encourage people to listen to that. Super cool and courageous. Again regardless of your political affiliation. Not your personally, but anyone who's listening. There's something that's so powerful about listening to that part of yourself. And so I give you many kudos. Kudos, what do I give you, do I give you,
Kudos is fine, I love kudos.
High five and a pizza? But we should, speaking of high five and a pizza, we should go get a bite. I'm super thankful. Is there anything I asked you that I shouldn't have.
No I hope you can edit some interesting things out of that. (laughs) Cut out the rambling Chase. I know you'll do it for me.
Oh no man. (laughing) I'm so thankful,
Thank you. you were willing to come here and sit with us a little bit.
Thank you it's good to see you.
It's super fun to be able to, just, I feel like, I get to have a special seat watching your work evolve and grow. And it's been really fun man.
Thank you Chase.
Alright everybody, that was a good one. Thank you so much for tuning in. Again if you haven't signed up for the whole series, you can press the little blue button at creativelive.com/30daysofgenius, and get something like this in your inbox every day for 30 days. Tune in, join us, and, goodnight, goodbye. What is it, goodnight and good luck, what was the?
You're the host Chase.
Later. (laughter) (claps hands) Have a great one, chow, chow. (dramatic music)