The Humans of My Family

The photoblog Humans of New York(HONY) has received a ton of media attention in the last couple of weeks. If you don’t know what HONY is, it is a photoblog started by a man named Brandon Stanton in 2010 as a sort of artistic project to photograph 10,000 random people in NYC as sort of a visual census. Quickly it evolved to be more intimate connections, as Stanton requests permission from his subjects to photograph them, and interviews them to include a caption or quote from his interviews to tell their story.

In mid January of this year, what started off as a profile of young teenager named Vidal continued to his inspiring principal Ms Lopez and snowballed into an outpouring of respect, admiration and financial support for some programming ambitions for her school in the troubled NYC neighbourhood it serves. The amazingly successful Indiegogo campaign is one of the largest ones on the site to date. Vidal and Stanton were even invited to meet the President of the United States this week.

Wow.

I have been following the HONY blog for some time now, and one of the main reasons that I connect with these are the captions that Stanton includes from his interviews with his photo subjects. I suspect it’s the same with others. These captions often reveal so much about the person, their stories, and offer so much to others because their wisdom or experiences are relevant to so many others. The courage for these ordinary people to persevere in their ordinary struggles help give us a feeling that we’re not the only ones.

Stanton has said that he’s able to get these wonderful interviews with people through practice, sincerity, natural curiosity, and a handful of starting questions:

  • “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
  • “What has been your greatest struggle?”
  • “What is your greatest fear?”
  • “What is your greatest accomplishment?”

The sad thing is, I haven’t asked these questions to many of the people I deem closest to me: my family members. As a child growing up I didn’t really need to know the history of my parents beyond some basic autobiographical details. As a teenager, I did the typical teenager thing and disregarded a lot of what my parents said as either “obvious” or not applicable as we were in Canada (my parents immigrated here).  As a young adult, I was preoccupied with university schooling and starting my career, meeting new people and finding out about how they think and work. I took for granted that I “knew” my family, that they would always be there for me to talk to later. However when I look at the list of questions above, I realize still I don’t know what the answers are for them, or for many of my closest friends for that matter!

It would be such a shame to pass up on this inspiration from HONY and not get to know aspects of my parents in the same way that I look forward to reading on HONY. We are all aging, and I know I can’t take them for granted anymore.

So, here’s a pledge from me to start asking these same questions of the people I love and respect, and so that I can pass on their stories to my children. Because isn’t that what we all want for in the end, to matter and be remembered by those who come after us?

~Jen

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