Humans of New York, also known as HONY, has definitely made a name for itself. Surfacing in November 2010, photographer and founder Brandon Stanton started off by taking pictures of New York City dwellers, and including short snippets and quotes from their conversations. Stanton’s work has become a huge phenomenon, and rightly so. He finds beauty in the ordinary lives of everyday people. It has grabbed the attention of a broad audience, from those who live miles and miles away to those who live next door. HONY is able to captivate citizens from around the world with no connection to the people or places in the photographs.
Because of the increasingly prevalent European migrant crisis, HONY has shifted its focus away from the Big Apple. Instead, it has begun to hone in on specific and individually heartbreaking stories of refugees trying to find new homes in Europe. Seeming to focus specifically on those trying to find safety in Greece, HONY has now documented many refugees’ stories. All stories are different in their own way, but all are so similarly tragic.
Despite all of the media coverage, many people only have a vague understanding of the migrant crisis. Most news sources are drawing attention to the large numbers of Middle Eastern refugees displaced across Europe. These huge numbers are ridiculously hard to comprehend, which can create difficulty in trying to understand the crisis.
The information that is most often broadcasted is about neighboring European countries’ refusal to accept refugees. Many countries blame their refusal on the possible economic repercussions their nation would likely face as a result of a huge population surge. Most news sources do not investigate the individual refugees’ stories; they lump the refugees into one indistinguishable group. While this may not be intentional, the traditional news sources are skimming past the unique experiences of these refugees.
Luckily, HONY is changing that. By capturing individual stories and portraying these heartbroken people on social media, the focus will shift from strict economics to the emotional and mental struggles of these misplaced people. By publicizing these stories, Stanton is giving these refugees a voice. Stanton has managed to create a “CNN effect”, meaning the media, in this case HONY, is able to effectively call attention to a certain political issue. Countries that have denied refugees entry will hopefully take a more empathetic stance after learning of these individual hardships. If citizens speak up, governments might listen.
To clarify, I am not proposing the rather naïve idea that a few pictures and heartfelt words of people across the ocean are able to change national leaders’ minds, or that refugees sharing their stories will result in the magical appearance of a perfect resolution to this global crisis. What I am saying, however, is that the power of words and images can go a long way. While these stories may not drastically change a nation’s immigration policies, it will make them more empathetic to the situation. These stories remind us that we are all people, and we all have emotions. These depictions show us that refugees aren’t just “the refugees.” They are real people with real stories. They cannot be grouped under one giant umbrella. They deserve to be heard. HONY’s work will deepen and expand our world’s understanding of the migrant crisis, and hopefully inspire more sympathy for their plight.