"Humans of New York"-- HONY for short -- is a popular blog run by Brandon Stanton that has become a cultural phenomenon through photographing ordinary people around the streets of New York City.
Since 2010, HONY has archived photographs of people from all walks of life and has become a digital microcosm for the city itself.
Every person has their stories, struggles and passions. HONY does not attempt to mask these facets of people's life but rather embraces them and incorporates them into each portrait (or caption).
As far as photographers go, HONY stands for seeing beauty in the ordinary. A simple reminder that we are surrounded by extraordinary people and unique cities, both of which are often blurred by the busy lives we lead.
A testament to HONY's reach and scope through social media came in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Brendan, in collaboration with Indiegogo and Tumblr, raised over $318,000 in short period of time.
Shortly afterwards, HONY decided to take his talents to an unlikely setting: the streets of Iran. As America's so-called "highest national security threat," Iran is looked at by many Americans as backwards, anti-Western, and hostile.
Armed with a camera and thousands of followers on social media sites, HONY travelled across the world and did what he does best: create remarkable art out of ordinary people.
What ensued was a collage of pictures taken around the country that challenge people's notions about the country, its people and their of life.
Looking through these images, the constant theme is how human characteristics prevail through cultures and boundaries. While the Iranian government may take certain actions that are deemed hostile by the West, Iranians themselves lead lives of pride, joy and everyday struggle.
This point is amplified in a picture with the following caption:
"A Chinese filmmaker congratulates an Iranian cleric who has just finished speaking on the meaning of Happiness, in fluent Mandarin. Boy in [apparent] Italian sweatshirt looks on. Scene captured by an American photographer. How's that for Kumbaya?"
This scene, among many others, was surely unnerving for HONY as it was for many of his followers. The similarities between seemingly polar cultures from opposite ends of the world is highlighted so vividly through HONY's time in Iran.
It is easy to label people and cultures. It is not easy to reverse these labels and create positive bridges between cultures. As global citizens, we ought to take a step back and question the validity of our prejudices towards the world. It is easier said than done, but looking at HONY's diverse body of works, it certainly can be done.
At the end of the day, we are imperfect beings. Even though lead different lives, speak different languages and eat different foods -- our struggles are one, and our lives are more similar than they are different.
For 2013, I will try to suspend my preconceived notions about people that are different than I am, and convince others to do the same.
What are you going to do differently this year?
Follow Humans of New York: