HONY and the New York Ethnoscape

In Ramanzi’s essay on Transnational poetics, we read that ‘”Prologue at Sixty,” W. H. Auden asks “Who am I now? / An American?” answering “No, a New Yorker”‘ (Ramanzi, 342).

Paradox: New York has no singular culture by any means. In fact, one of its boroughs, Queens, is statistically the most diverse neighborhood in the world. (Google it!) And yet, New Yorkers with every background imaginable not only identify with the city but are deeply proud of its multiethnic, multinational, multi-everything tradition. More so than any other city in the world, New York is known as a contact zone for ideas, attitudes, styles, national identities and backgrounds. The city is a truly transnational space.

No one captures this transnational aspect of New York better than the photographer and Facebook sensation, Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York. (He’s mostly known as HONY). To use his words, he has been “taking photographs of strangers on the street” since 2010, showcasing their individuality through details in their personal aesthetics, clothing, tattoos, hairstyles, beards or facial expressions. Given the city’s history of immigration and cultural diffusion, it is not surprising that HONY’s subjects have so many different aesthetic influences, but what is remarkable is how clearly and enthusiastically HONY portrays all of them. His captions also shed unique insight into the stories and perspectives that his subjects have. Censuses aside, his blog is arguably the closest resource that we have to a comprehensive look into New York’s ever changing ethnoscape.

Watch his video, (http://www.humansofnewyork.com/about) and then go surf around his archives. My favorite photos of his are from 2012-2013.

Xanthe Gallate

One thought on “HONY and the New York Ethnoscape”

  1. I wonder if Auden didn’t in fact mean to invoke this paradoxical unity in diversity when he declared himself a New Yorker? The HONY Auden connection is a generative one though. So many of Auden’s New York poems elaborate the human geography of the city and its interiors – chiefly its dive bars. Tying together more of Auden’s poems with HONY’s photography would be a fruitful project.



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