Magazine article The Christian Century

The Face of Everyhuman

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Face of Everyhuman

Article excerpt

WHEN I WAS in elementary school, living in an apartment development on the east side of Manhattan, one of my favorite things to do was to wander among the identical redbrick buildings with clipboard and pencil, stop passersby, and ask them to respond to a survey. The questions I dreamed up were various, but they all had something to do with what it means to be a human being; and I must have seemed innocuous enough, for no one refused my request.

Five years ago an unemployed bond trader named Brandon Stanton created a fully realized version of what I was trying naively to accomplish with clipboard and pencil: Humans of New York, a photoblog capturing the faces, fashions, struggles, miseries, and joys of genus Everyhuman, species New York. If, like me and 15 million other people, you follow HONY on Facebook (the parody site, Ores of New York, has a mere 20,000 followers), then perhaps you too have been moved to tears by the images and stories, by the endless stream of encouraging comments, and by the empathy-driven crowdfunding projects HONY has inspired. You're probably also aware that Stanton has taken his special brand of heart-piercing street portraiture beyond New York to Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ukraine, India, Nepal, Vietnam, and Mexico. Everyhuman, we discover through Stanton's lens, is everywhere.

As I write, HUMAN: the movie, a cinematic collage created from 2,000 interviews with men and women in 60 countries, is premiering at the Venice Film Festival, slated to be shown at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, and available for free on YouTube in a three-volume extended edition.

HUMAN is the work of aerial photographer and environmental activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand and as such is more spectacular, galvanizing, and ideological in its portrait of a social and natural world in crisis. The future will tell whether it can be as effective as HONY in building human solidarity on the ground.

Two other human images have been seen by millions, I suppose, in recent weeks: that of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach, and that of a fetus exposed on a sterilization tray. Many were inspired by the image of Aylan Kurdi to open borders, homes, and churches to asylum seekers fleeing Syria. Many were appalled by a series of stealthily acquired videos targeting Planned Parenthood. The videos included stock photos of aborted (or in one case, stillborn) fetuses, raising serious concerns about the manipulation of public sentiment. But stock photos are not fake photos--we're not dealing with the Cottingley Fairies--and to see these images was to realize, viscerally, the humanity of the unborn. …

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