How Humans of New York Became Brandon Stanton’s Full-Time Job

humans of new york

Whether it’s photography, crafts, music, or writing, when asked, most of us would probably agree that we’d love to be making our living from our creative pursuits. Who doesn’t want to be that success story of the ultra-happy person who quit their day job and now makes a living doing what they really love? It’s a story as old as time (or possibly just as old as the internet). But realistically, transitioning a passion-based side-project from a pastime to a career usually seems like a daunting, financially-risky,  maybe-even-impossible goal, so for many of us, it stays just that — a side-project. Though, for others, it really does become something huge.

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Chase Jarvis spoke with Brandon Stanton, the photographer and creative force behind Humans of New York, the online photography project that’s become a legitimate phenomenon. Brandon’s work captures core human truths, and his path proves that taking the plunge into doing the work you truly love is both essential — and attainable.

brandon stantonBrandon carries with him a unique set of insights into what it takes to make your passion your career.

“It started with me getting a camera and loving photography,” he explains.

He spent lots of time experimenting, without a set goal or project in mind. This flexibility was key — it led him to stumble onto the format that would go on to be Humans of New York’s trademark: a posed image and a brief interview.

Becoming passionate about that format helped Brandon shed his preconceived notions of how one converts a hobby into a career.

“I’d been working in finance — my whole goal was, I always felt like an artistic person, so I always thought I’d make money now, store up resources, and do something artistic someday.” Losing his job motivated Brandon to be okay with being broke for awhile as he continued to learn photography. In turn, giving himself that creative space helped him stumble upon his core idea: “I’m going to be the guy who takes 10,000 portraits of New Yorkers.”

Watch the full video, packed with more insights about how Brandon used his passion to propel Humans of New York into a full-on juggernaut — including how he transformed the project from simple Facebook page to a New York Times #1 Best-Seller — below.

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Lauren Hoffman lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. By day, she's a freelance writer and editor; by night, she's at work completing a book-length non-fiction project, Up High Down Low.