‘Humans of Kolkata.’ As the name says, it is all about the people of Kolkata, everyone irrespective of religion, race, colour, creed, etc. A Facebook page created last February, on it people jostle for attention though the posts – ordinary men and women, rich and poor, normal and abnormal, happy and sad, careful and daring, and everyone in between and over and above. A motley collection of characters, moods and colours.
The collage is unique: unlike just a collection of photographs, here each is accompanied by a short portrait of the person or the moment, or a short conversation with the photographer. Leaves from life-stories, a mélange of moments.
Anyone can contribute here. All photographs, though, have to be accompanied by a write-up in the form of a description or a conversation or just a related thought, followed by the name of the photographer. In its short life of about six months, Humans of Kolkata has notched up over 8,000 ‘likes’, an impressive figure indeed. What makes it popular is the ordinariness of the characters inhabiting the page, something which the common people can identify with. And also the accompanying short sketches, often words spoken by the subjects themselves, which bring about an intimate perspective to the characters and the situations. Sourjya Singh is the page administrator of Humans of Kolkata.
There is a similar online property called Humans of Calcutta, which is a photo blog, also very popular like the Facebook page mentioned above, with the evocative tagline, ‘Let your soul speak.’ The only difference is that this is not open to anybody and everybody, though contributors are accommodated. Most of the photographs are contributed by, and the site is moderated by, a group of four Class XII students, with Soham Ghosh as the administrator. These pages capture the spirit of the city through its inhabitants as well as through its part-timers, that is, people who come to the city for work and other purposes.
Humans of Kolkata (from the Facebook page)
The concept creating such portrayals was born in the summer of 2010 in the mind of an out-of-work bond trader from Chicago, Brandon Stanton. After losing his job, Brandon decided to pursue his passion of photography. He came to New York, that great melting pot of world culture. He began with the innovative idea of taking 10,000 photographs of ordinary New Yorkers, strangers he would encounter on the streets, in parks, in the metro, in public places in general, and compiling them in a blog.
Initially he took only photographs. But along the way a brainwave hit him: why not make a photo blog and include little stories about the people in the pictures? Anything about the moment clicked, a brief biography, an answer to a question, a joy shared, a hurt expressed, a dilemma debated, just about anything and everything. The blog, Humans of New York quickly became very popular.
The power of social media prompted him to create a Facebook page in November 2010. Initially Brandon used it only to promote his blog, but gradually individual photographs and the related stories started appearing. The comments from visitors to the page form a much-appreciated addition to the photo-stories. In no time Brandon Stanton became a celebrity. As of today, the Facebook page has gathered a phenomenal over 8 million ‘likes’. It is called HONY in short. There is also an official Instagram page and an official Twitter handle.
Humans of New York (from the Facebook page)
The ‘Humans of…’ movement, so to say, has spawned followers all over the world in the form of similarly named and themed blogs, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr pages, and Twitter accounts, and a New York Times bestseller to boot (by Brandon Stanton, titled, what else but, Humans of New York). Some are managed by groups (like Humans of Calcutta) while some are managed by individuals (like Humans of New York, Humans of Bombay). There is a Humans of India, a Humans of Tehran, a Humans of Bronx Science, a Humans of LaGuardia and many others of the same ilk. The worldwide influence that Brandon Stanton has had in creating this unique trend led Time magazine to anoint him as one of its thirty Under 30 World Changers for 2013. India is a major contributor to this trend of framing strangers and their thoughts and stories. There are Facebook pages on Humans of Lucknow, Bangalore, New Delhi, Bombay, Chennai, etc. (besides India and Kolkata, as already mentioned).
(From left) Humans of Berlin, La Guardia and Tehran (from the Facebook pages)
This series of social media pages and blogs have given us a street-level view of people, ordinary people’s lives and convictions though a unique amalgamation of pictures and words (words portraying intimate pictures, as distinct from captions). As the pages and sites become more and more popular, we are getting to see and know the lives of people almost like never before, lives of people like us. And as Brandon says in his blog, ‘It’s been quite a ride so far. Feel free to follow along.’ Oh yes! And there is a Humans of West Bengal as well. Keep clicking! Keep the stories flowing!
Humans of West Bengal (from the Facebook page)
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv