If, as the famous movie line goes, there really are eight million stories in the Naked City, then telling each one of them will take... (produces calculator / enters lots of numbers / thinks really hard / crunches more numbers / divides by 365 / frustrated / smashes calculator on desk) ...a ridiculously long time.
And relying mostly on photographs to share these tales would only add another degree of difficulty for this awesomely tough task.
But give credit to Brandon Stanton, because he's already more than 3,000 stories in -- and the resulting blog and website are helping to capture not only the stories, but the spirit of its subjects, as well. And, of an entire city.
Stanton's ambitious Humans of New York web series is creating a "photographic census" of the five boroughs, whose population has expanded well past that "eight million" number tossed out in 1948's "The Naked City." With on-the-spot street portraits and just a few lines of text accompanying each photo, the enterprising urban anthropologist has produced a vivid, understated celebration of everyday folks.
In one recent photo, a man with a pink-and-black mohawk and pink-and-black eyebrows is photographed with a huge grin on his face, with the caption, "This guy was huge, mohawked, and tatoooed. A real intimidating character -- then he smiled."
In another, a young schoolgirl stands showing off a handmade "book" made of brightly-colored construction paper. "This is Ashley Cloud. She is very sweet. But every boy in class will tell you, she kicks very hard."
Each day, the blog introduces us to more extraordinary ordinary people.
In a video posted on his site, Stanton explains that he finds people to photograph at random, walking the streets of any given neighborhood for a few hours and asking people if he can take their picture.
He says that "At first I wouldn’t ask anybody. I couldn’t imagine anybody would let me take their photo." But after his stealth photo sessions provoked a handful of confrontations, he decided a little transparency and a personal introduction may more a more effective (and less contentious) approach.
"I go around all the different neighborhoods of New York," he tells one man on a street corner, while pursuing a new portrait. "And take photos of people who live and work in different areas and I’m organizing a sort of photographic census of the city.”
The man agrees, only after asking if he'll get paid and then being promised a buck for his trouble.
Humans of New York now has more than 73,000 "Likes" on Facebook and a post from April 29 announces the page is now "the third fastest-growing Arts and Humanities page on all of Facebook." Several new portraits are added every day, with many generating more than 100 comments. Among the most recent photographs is a profile shot of a woman with a nose ring and long, blue hair pulled back to reveal a shaved head underneath.
"I design costumes."
"What's the coolest costume you've ever designed?"
"Had to be the break dancing polar bear."
That would be tough to top.
The camera-toting Stanton says he'd love to give the project a shot in other cities, describing in his video a vision where "one day there would be an entire map of the world and you could click on any different region, in any part of the world, and scroll through the faces of the people who live in that place."