Humans of Iraq – by Brandon Stanton and the UN

Stanton - HONY Iraq

HONY caption: “There were dozens of them and only four of us. They took all my sheep.” (Dohuk, Iraq)

Humans of New York takes on the planet in what could be the single most effective way to tap social media for it’s highest and best purpose, make us look beyond tribes and stereotypes and finally see each other for what we are: Humans of the Planet.

Maybe you don’t do Facebook, and with world media screaming/streaming violence and sex you maybe missed the few soft stories on the gentle American who chats with strangers, takes a few photos, and then posts the best of both bits on his FB page.

Since 2010, limiting himself to the streets of New York City, photographer Brandon Stanton has performed alchemy – capturing the shortest and most meaningful human stories with just a picture and a sentence.

Brandon Stanton - HONY IRAQ

HONY caption: “We told her to sit with us so we could share her sadness.” (Dohuk, Iraq)

Nearly nine million people can’t be wrong, all “liking” this site of snaps and snappy captions; Humans of New York – better known as HONY – is addictive.  Had a bad day? Overwhelmed by world news? Then click on HONY and escape into the natural poetry of ordinary people.

HONY Brandon Stanton Iraq

HONY caption: A man in a wheel chair, his underdeveloped legs atop a box, his cell phone in hand showing an image he Photoshopped of his face onto a healthy body, “to see what I would look like.” 

It’s said that a thousand words can be made redundant by a picture. But Stanton’s posts don’t erase language. In fact his perfect pairings of image with text attracts thousands more words – from commentators completely free from the snarkiness and vitriol of most internet hecklers. People express understanding, sympathy and joy.  They openly react, with kindness – often sharing their own stories too. It’s infectious in the most hopeful way.

Last week, trading in New York City’s five boroughs for ten different countries, Stanton kicked off  a 50 day trip in partnership with the United Nations (UN), supported by the Secretary General’s Millennium Development Group (MDG) Advocacy Group. He’ll cover 25,000 miles, posting pictures and stories in the style of his Humans of New York series. First stop? Iraq.  Talk about starting the tour with a bang.

The project aims to publicize the MDG – eight international development goals that every UN member state agreed to achieve by 2015, including wiping out child poverty and ensuring universal education.

HONY-UN-wiredBut while Stanton’s tour will circle the planet, he was quick to toss out a disclaimer. He wrote on the tour’s website, “It would be rather foolish to claim that these portraits and stories somehow represent ‘the world,’ or humanity as a whole. The point of the trip is not to ‘say’ anything about the world. But rather to visit some faraway places, and listen to as many people as possible.”

The trip was planned before the Gaza/Israel war erupted.  The Islamic State had yet to start rockin’ and rollin’ in Kurdistan. Stanton, the humanitarian, has just been cast as a war reporter. It will be fascinating to see the story he will tell.

HONY IRAQHONY caption: “She speaks more languages than anyone in the family. Because she plays with all the children in the street.” (Erbil, Iraq)

No doubt he’ll stay true to his core belief that we each have a story, a story worth hearing – a tale that benefits teller and listener alike.  Zip codes be damned, we are not that unlike. Under closer inspection, differences dissipate.

One follower of his Iraq content posted, “Your pictures give me a whole new view of Iraq and its people; unlike what the media usually portrays. Thank you for shedding a light into these otherwise hidden, beautiful stories.”  Said another, “This is honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to Facebook.”

Open your eyes to a new breed of reporting – watch the individual narrative trump corporate and political war spin. See what Stanton sees at his Facebook page.  Learn more about the MDG on their website – link here.

UN webpage screenshot from WIRED; all other images from HONY

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2 thoughts on “Humans of Iraq – by Brandon Stanton and the UN”

  1. Almost fifty years of promises from “green agriculture”, “family planning”, “affirmative action”, “erase poverty”, “arms limitation”, “development banks”, “international XYZ funds” and now “millennium” targets have seen me grow weary of all these catchy phrases and lofty ideals. Nothings really seems to have worked out well. And if we still see progress (and we do, e.g. with literacy rates and child mortality and still feeding more of the seven billion than we did of the maybe two billion fifty years ago) then on closer inspection it seems to all have happened DESPITE these programs. And, I wonder, if the money had not been raised for these projects, might it not have had more economic effect if it had staid “put”? Nonetheless these photographs are touching and if nothing else, they may serve as reminder of how ailing the world was when and IF in another fifty years a lot of these targets may have been reached.

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