'Humans of New York' is in Joburg - and its 26 million followers around the world have just met these inspiring locals

Business Insider SA
Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton (Twitter, @humansofny)

Humans of New York - arguably the world’s most successful photo blog - is visiting South Africa for the first time.

Founded by photographer Brandon Stanton in 2010, it has over 18 million followers on Facebook, and 8.3 million on Instagram.

He started the photo blog to document New Yorkers and their stories, and almost immediately gained a massive following.

Each of Stanton's posts showcases a photo and short profile of a person, in their own words. Stanton has received great acclaim for his poignant portraits, which are intriguing and often deeply moving. A Humans in New York photo book spent 31 weeks on the New York Times' best seller list. 

He has now documented lives in more than twenty countries, and told stories of the European migrant crisis and the situation in Iran. 

Stanton visited Africa over recent weeks, sharing portraits of normal people in Egypt, Nigeria, and most recently, heart-wrenching stories from Rwanda.

In a single day, he raised more than R6 million among his followers for an orphanage in Rwanda.

The photo blog is currently profiling people living in Johannesburg: 

The Sudanese optimist


The caption on Humans of New York reads: “I have nothing to complain about. I’m originally from Sudan. I love it there. So many happy memories. I got so much love from my family because I was the youngest. Since then I’ve lived in five different countries and I’ve enjoyed every single one. I don’t have a partner, but I have plenty of great friends. I don’t have children, but I’m a lovely uncle. I don’t take any medicine. I sleep well. I can walk around. I don’t know what to say. Every time I think about it, I conclude that I’m happy. I wake up smiling. I lived in Germany for several years. And they have these cameras along the highway that photograph you when you’re speeding. I’ve got a huge collection of photos because I love to speed. It’s always just me alone in my car. And I’m smiling in every one of them.”

The aunt turned mother


The caption on Humans of New York reads: “My younger sister passed away last year from an unexpected stroke. So I’m raising both my daughter and my niece. In our culture, it’s an automatic. It just kicks in. She belongs to me now. I’m a single mother so it’s not easy. There are definitely months when I add up income and expenses and the numbers don’t work. And both of them are thirteen so their moods are all over the place. Today is like this, and tomorrow is like that. But God has given us favor as well. We can afford to share an ice cream. We have shelter. We have food. And after four months of no work, I just found a new management position. So we’ve come a long way. My niece is beginning to heal. Her grades are improving at school. She still speaks of her mother in the present tense, but there’s no more crying at night. And I’ve grown a lot as well. Because more than I want to acknowledge --the struggle has given me meaning. This is my purpose. I have a little family. And we share what little we have.”

The body-builder    

(Instagram, @humansofny)

The caption on Humans of New York reads: “I started bodybuilding after my chemotherapy. At first it was just a way to get healthy again. But I discovered I was good at it. I started winning competitions. And I got hooked. My boyfriend didn’t like it. He thought it made me less desirable. But the worse our relationship got, the more I focused on working out. It just felt so great to be recognized for something. I was really, really good at it. And the bodybuilding community is so great. They’re some of the least judgmental people because they’re used to being judged all the time. For the first few years I was really self-conscious about my body. But I’ve gotten to the point where the small comments don’t really bother me anymore: ‘ew,’ gross,’ ‘disgusting’-- things like that. I can usually block people out if they can’t type more than a sentence. But occasionally the criticism sinks in. It still hurts when people question my gender. Or my sexuality. And I’ve had some awkward Tinder dates. The last guy said: ‘Holy fuck, you’re bigger than I thought you’d be.’ But despite all this, I’ve gotten comfortable in my own skin. I actually feel more feminine now than I did growing up. I was always skinny. I never had breasts. I didn’t ever feel like a natural woman. But what is natural? Is make-up natural? Or botox? Or fillers? Or breast implants? All of us are flawed. My mask might be different than other people, but we all hide behind something. I just hide behind my muscles.”

The steadfast pilot

(Instagram, @humansofny)

The caption on Humans of New York reads: “Mom tried her best to pay for flight school, but we kept running out of money. I’d have to drop out for a few weeks, and since flying involves so much muscle memory, it would take me a while to get back on track. So one day I bought a stack of magazines and newspapers. I went through every page and cut out the advertisements. Then I opened my pantry and wrote down every brand I could find. I sent all of them letters, asking for help. Almost everyone said ‘no.’ But I did receive an amount from a grocery store called Pick-n-Pay. And Breitling sent me a brand new watch to raffle. That was a huge break. I sold six hundred raffle tickets. Things were going so well. African Pilot Magazine promoted the raffle for free. A man from Australia bought 100 tickets. But then I got a letter from the Lottery Board ordering me to end my raffle. They said it was illegal. I tried to explain that I was raising money for my education, but they didn’t care. I was so disappointed. I’d have to sit out another year of flight school. But when I called everyone to explain the situation, nobody would accept their money back. They told me to keep it! It was enough to keep me in the air for months. Then around Christmas that year, one of my mentors invited me to eat lunch at the airport. When I stepped out of the car, everyone who had ever helped me was there. They all started clapping. And somebody handed me the phone. A person on the other end said: ‘You’re live on 94.7, and we’re going to pay for your entire education!’ That was nearly four years ago. I just got my license last week. My plan is to fly for South African Airlines, but first I want to do some teaching. I want to visit schools in black neighborhoods. I want all the kids to see what an African female pilot looks like.” 

See more of Staton's inspiring posts here

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