Humans of Williamsport

It all started a mere four years ago when then 26-year-old Brandon Stanton, despite no professional photography training, bought a semi-professional Canon EOS 7D, after losing his job at a Chicago-based trading firm.

With a natural eye for beauty and an immense wanderlust, he turned a newfound hobby into a profession and began traveling, camera in hand.

What Stanton found through his travels, was that humans themselves – residents, citizens, pedestrians, locals, fellow travelers, artists, humanitarians, writers, the list goes on – served as a more interesting subject and story, garnering more reaction on Facebook than cityscape images.

What started with humble beginnings, has turned into the now-famous “Humans of New York,” a Facebook page with more than 4.3 million “likes.”

The HONY phenomenon has inspired many spinoffs, as ambitious photographers with an interest in the human condition, trek through their own cities to find a human to talk to and take a photo of, in order to share with the rest of the world on social media.

Why do such a thing?

Isaiah Britton, 28, of Williamsport, thinks that these projects capture what it means to be a human, so that we can relate to one another.

“With NYC as a backdrop, HONY shows the uniqueness of individuals, while highlighting the fact that, as human beings, we share more similarities than differences,” Britton said.

True – on the HONY page, you’ll find a wide array of photographs that feature a diverse selection of human beings, ranging from a photo of a child who simply says something cute, to much more serious subjects, like death, job loss or generally tough life circumstances that someone is going through.

Arguably even more compelling at times than the photograph itself, are the thousands of comments from other humans from all over the globe, relating and sharing their own stories that the post provoked.

This process of sharing images and stories inspired Britton.

“We all face obstacles and enjoy celebrations of some kind. It is my firm belief that that pain shared is pain lessened; that joy shared is joy multiplied. HONY has made this sentiment clear in a personal and profound way,” he said.

Britton is a self-proclaimed “Jack of all trades” – fitting to be the man behind the lens (or in Britton’s case, an iPhone) for Humans of Williamsport. He has an interest in just about everything. A Loyalsock Township High School graduate, he studied economics, sociology, anthropology and philosophy at Lycoming College, where he also was a member of the wrestling team. He now is the assistant wrestling coach. In his spare time, Williamsporters might find him performing music around town or, as of late, wandering around the city to snap photos for the HOW page.

The Humans of Williamsport Facebook page was “founded” on New Year’s Day 2014 and now has more than 2,000 likes, growing each day.

How could a small city like Williamsport allow for as interesting subjects as the cultural capital of the globe, NYC?

“(It) stems from my belief that, like NYC, Williamsport is a thriving and vibrant community held together by its people,” Britton said.

Through documenting for HOW, he said that belief is now more of a matter of fact.

Documenting for the Humans of Williamsport page isn’t always a piece of cake, however. Not everyone likes to be photographed – let alone photographed and put on social media for anyone to see.

And even if they are OK with being photographed, how does one provoke an interesting anecdote or bit of advice to post with the photo, when the person is a complete stranger?

Britton looks at it all as a learning experience, embracing awkward or rude encounters. He said that he actually is turned away from people more than he is given permission to take photos.

To get a response, he generally asks, “If you could give on piece of advice to a large group of people, what would you say?,” while assuring him that he, too, would have difficulty coming up with an on-the-spot answer.

“If there is one thing that I have learned from the people agreeing to speak with me, it’s this: Always be kind to strangers. You never know what they’re going through,” Britton said.

Britton said he is learning a lot about his own preconceived notions of people – notions that he had been unaware of. For instance, he said, he has found that people who appear unapproachable, actually can turn out to be just the opposite, being receptive and open to answer questions.

“As one person with whom I spoke put it: You can’t judge a book by its cover,” he said.

Britton also occasionally posts non-human elements of the city. Recently posted: a rusty bicycle.

“Just as an archaeologist uses man-made items to deduce characteristics of ancient cultures, I often see inanimate objects that tell an important story about the culture of our city,” he said.

So far, things are going well for the HOW page, as Britton continues to post an image of a Human of Williamsport just about every day.

Of the more engaging recent posts, is a photo of an older gentleman with a fedora, khakis, blue gloves and a hammer at his feet.

“Do you have any wisdom you’d like to share?” Britton asked.

“In recalling my youth, I think of a poem I wrote:

‘Where went the hour endless / When Sahara sifted slow.’

Which means that your perception of time changes as you get older. The older you get, the faster time progresses. I’m 72, but I still look forward to doing things. Whether repairing a broken sidewalk or analyzing a Shakespeare play for my website. Or just simply getting out of the house,” the gentleman replied.

Other fellow humans commented on the image, one woman replying, “I’m 75 in May and I so like your outlook on life. Stay young at heart.”

Another asked for the man’s website.

Britton calls the project rewarding, adding that for now, his only aim is, through the HOW page, to bring the community to others in a personal way, in an honest and uplifting manner.

“I feel that the idea of relating to one another – that is, engaging our similarities – is important to keep us grounded, to remind us that we are all human,” Britton said.