AT 3.30 pm on Friday, a photograph of a deserted Central Park began doing the rounds of Facebook, garnering thousands of comments, likes and shares. It wasn’t the picture that was the rage, but the caption under it. “For those of you in Delhi who want to say hello, I’ll be in Central Park, Connaught Place, at 6 pm. It was enough to bring nearly a thousand to the venue an hour before time. The photo was posted by Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the hugely popular photoblog, Humans of New York (HONY).
The 30-year-old is visiting India as part of a 50-day world tour spanning 11 countries in partnership with the United Nations. He has already travelled to Iraq, Jordan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Ukraine. Stanton has been in India for a few days and has been posting photos from Jammu and Delhi on his blog, Instagram account and Facebook page. His Facebook page alone has 9.6 million followers and he has also released a book by the same name in 2013.
At Central Park, he gives a demonstration on how to approach strangers for photos with a few lessons on storytelling. “I meet so many people every day who want to be a part of the blog and I refuse so many. It makes me a bad guy but the first rule is to have boundaries, hard boundaries,” Stanton says.
Seated on the ground with an enthusiastic bunch of youngsters around him, Stanton was overwhelmed with the cards, posters and “I love you” shout-outs that came his way every few minutes. Eager to get featured on his blog, several people turned up in quirky clothes — dhotis paired with formal shirts, a few fedoras, neon dresses, coloured hair streaks and Lennon glasses. “I don’t look for anything other than someone I can talk to, a story I haven’t heard before,” Stanton says.
After refusing selfies and autographs, Stanton demonstrates how to approach people for photos. Picking up a girl from the audience, he says, “Never approach anyone from behind. You have to be as non-threatening to strangers on the road as possible.”
He advises the audience to start with a broad question, and follow it up with more till one finds a unique story. He calls out to a volunteer, Vaishnavi, “What’s your greatest struggle right now?”. He is rewarded with a cute vignette on her missing her mother and Mumbai.
Then he asks one of his famous questions: “What is your advice to a big group of people?” He says, “Do not wait for perfect. If you have a dream or an idea, do not wait until it looks perfect in your heart.”
After taking a group shot, Stanton waves goodbye. The crowd is in no mood to let him go. They follow him till his car, triggering a traffic snarl. Twenty minutes later, Stanton, true his word, posts the group photo on HONY with the caption “Thanks to all of you who came to the meet up in Delhi. It went about as well as a spontaneous meet-up could possibly go. Amazingly, we were able to have a pretty organised, calm speech. Until the very end, of course, when we ran from police. Coolest part for me was when police were looking for someone to blame for the crowd, and asked: ‘Who is he with?’ and everyone screamed in unison: ‘All of us!’”