Beyond the Bubble: A Stranger’s Face

by Andrea Nease | 9/30/14 6:10pm

Art is decorative. It is full of carefully planned technique — right? Can art be spontaneous? Can art be part of the everyday?

Clement Greenberg wrote an essay on the hierarchy of genre in the 20th century in which he asserted that still life was at the bottom, along with portraitures of members of the working class. But these portraitures are no longer at the bottom. Rather, they have gained momentum, rising through the hierarchy’s ranks since the development of Humans of New York in 2010.

If art is supposed to be anything but ordinary, why is the candid becoming such a popular form of photographic art? HONY leads this trend. Photographer Brandon Stanton, HONY’s creator, has brought strangers and their stories to the public eye through almost 5,000 portraits — and people still cannot get enough of HONY.

In a world where social connection is far from the last thing on our minds, seeing a face, a person who isn’t a model, provides a connection. A magazine’s photoshopped picture of a woman isn’t relatable. An elderly woman telling Stanton about the love of her life while posing in her meager sundress can remind readers of their grandma or mom or neighbor.

There is nothing fake about this new art genre, and that’s where the appeal seems to be generated. Stanton’s HONY Facebook page has more than 10 million likes and is growing every day.

This method of photography and storytelling through strangers has proven that the art is no longer just the candid picture posted on a blog. Artists like Stanton have turned their blogs into museums, with each story as its very own exhibition.

Organizations such as HONY teach the world that each and every face you see has a story behind it, and the more we acquaint ourselves with the human race in a state that lacks photoshop, the more we can begin to appreciate ourselves as we are. HONY teaches us to love ourselves by removing the curtain from the people and places that don’t fit in a box, from those of us who don’t naturally possess airbrushed complexion and model-esque figures. The project captures people like you and me, who are more than just a combination of composed facial features, a trim torso and poised limbs.

During an interview in 2012, Stanton said that he has assistants delete and ban comments that insult the photo’s subjects. This seems intuitive, but picking and choosing which comments stay and which comments go is actually part of a curation process for his “exhibitions.”

HONY has spread much farther than New York, going beyond the bounds of the U.S. and even the Americas. Stanton’s work has not only inspired artists, but has also spread to college campuses as aspiring artists pick up their cameras and photograph the stories of their home away from home.

Dartmouth is fortunate enough to have some of these artists on campus running the organization Faces of Dartmouth. Faces of Dartmouth is the right step for our campus, because Dartmouth is not simply a college full of students. Rather, it is a campus full of peers going through similar struggles. Everyone has a story, and each story has its own beauty. So, with the popularity of this genre, why don’t we all start appreciating the extraordinary in the ordinary?

Other college campuses joining the candid feeding frenzy include the University of Illinois, Bowdoin College, Williams College and countless other universities. Even larger than these college-based operations are similar campaigns popping up worldwide. Humans of Asia, of BBC, of Switzerland and, with one of the largest possible scopes, named HOPE: Humans of Planet Earth.

HOPE employs 130 photographers in 106 total locations, all aiming to represent the ordinary beauty of our world through everyday life and stories. “I truly believe that the key to uniting nations, is to unite people. In my experience the best way to do that is to, for lack of a better term, ‘humanize humans,’...you know, take the time to get to know people,” the organization’s Facebook page reads.

Do these pictures give you a sense of connection, security or maybe a little bit of hope for the future? Candid photography of strangers is a breath of fresh air. After being so invested in first impressions, superficial appearance and the scene of materialism, documenting an unplanned moment to see the “real” in reality is rare. We take the beauty of the ordinary for granted, when it should be highly appreciated.