A boy with dark hair rests on the sidewalk. Though his outfit suggests he should be playing with friends, he has taken a moment to lament the realities of growing up. He reflects on his fear of losing aspects of his childhood as he enters teendom.
"You're gonna outgrow everything eventually, you're just gonna, yeah, you're just gonna lose everything," he says.
It's rare for an interviewer to get such an honest anecdote out of a total stranger. But Brandon Stanton, founder of the photo blog Humans of New York, has shaped his entire career around his ability to do so.
Stanton's internet sensation is a collection of street portraits and interviews that document the everyday life and thoughts of a myriad of people living in New York City. These snippets of conversation can range from lighthearted musings to heavier contemplations on death and the passage of time. The blog was so popular that it soon became a bestselling book. This week, Humans of New York: The Series was released as a docuseries on Facebook's newest video platform, Facebook Watch.
With more than 18 million likes on its Facebook page, Humans of New York is the perfect candidate for Facebook's newest endeavor in original video content. No longer are you limited to 30-second "Tasty" videos or that one CNN interview that your uncle keeps sharing. Facebook doesn't want users to have its website in one tab and Netflix in another. Now, you can binge on videos inside the comfort of the social network, as Facebook inches one step closer to its ultimate goal of becoming the One True Website.
The premiere episode of Humans of New York: The Series is exactly as if you took an album of photos off Stanton's original photo blog and converted it straight into video format. The episode, which uses footage filmed over the course of four years, plays out as if clicking through photographs in a series, as interviews follow one after the other, rarely doubling back, with no real narrative. The beginning feels more like a guided meditation than a coherent episode of television. Stories ebb and flow into each other. Sometimes interviewees seem to be answering straightforward questions and other times their answers turn into rambling speculations. It's refreshing to hear people talk candidly about what makes them happy or sad, and you can't help but wonder what trait Stanton possesses that allows these people to feel as if they can speak so freely.
The main drawback of the first episode is that it doesn't seem like the obvious next step from the photo blog and the book. If anything, it's a less successful way of visualizing Stanton's concept. The blog dominates screens everywhere because it is a concept and a form that work so well together — stunning pictures of everyday people, side-by-side with interesting, heartwarming or heartbreaking quotes. It is beautiful and engaging in its simplicity without needing anything else. I found myself wishing that Stanton had played with his idea a little more, allowing the videos to stand on their own without seeming like a direct copy of his former work.
Overall, Humans of New York: The Series is a poignant and entertaining stroll down the streets of New York. New but seemingly familiar faces tell their stories, as Stanton continues to redefine what it means to talk to strangers.