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Humans of NY goes global

Aug. 19: When Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the enormously popular website Humans of New York, landed this month in Arbil, Iraq, he had no idea that chaos was about to engulf the city.

“It was a complete coincidence that I happened to be there,” Stanton said. “I arrive in Iraq the day that the Mosul Dam got taken and the day that Sinjar Mountain got taken.”

Stanton is known for strolling the streets of New York, taking people’s pictures and interviewing them about their lives. He then posts the portraits and captions on the Humans of New York blog, as well as on Instagram, where his work has over 1.5 million followers, and on the blog’s Facebook page, which has over nine million. His book of the same title spent 21 weeks on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, quickly soaring to No. 1.

Now Stanton has shifted his sights beyond the five boroughs, documenting street life near dangerous areas and war zones around the world on a 50-day UN-sponsored tour. Arbil was the first stop, and he has since visited a refugee camp in Jordan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He plans to visit Ukraine, Haiti and South Sudan.

“Those are the places that have the most extreme headlines coming out,” Stanton said by phone from Jerusalem, where he was planning to take pictures and then ask the UN for permission to post them. “Those are the places most skewed in people’s heads. The work has a very humanising effect in places that are misunderstood or feared.”

In one of his posts, a man standing with his three young daughters at a market in northern Iraq confesses his worries about providing for them. In another, a man sitting on a camel in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra discusses his philosophy of life.

Many of the most moving pictures come from the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where many Syrians have ended up after fleeing their country’s civil war. The stories in these photographs often involve the death of a family member or neighbour.

Although Stanton has attracted a huge following, some photography experts suggest that there are limits to the impact of his content. Nina Berman, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and the photographer behind the book Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq, praised Stanton’s work but said that the travel series “doesn’t allow for any complexity”.

 
 
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