Passions Pursued, HONY, Pandora and Unicorns

“They were expecting it to be nothing but unicorns shitting rainbows…”

Ever browse Humans Of New York (HONY)? Think this: a photographer named Brandon who admits to, at some point being obsessed with things like aquariums, piano, baritone, New York City, etc. His current passion brings us pictures of New Yorkers, taken in a purposely unprofessional, informal off-the-cuff manner (as opposed to using a high tech camera and formal shots). He put these photos into a book which became a New York Times bestseller. Under the photos on the HONY site you’ll find snippets; direct quotes from the people in the photos; taken from interviews that Brandon does ‘on the spot.’ (I’ll supply the link to HONY at the end of the blog.)

One of my favorites -there are so many–  is a head shot of a gray haired bespectacled man with teeth that are straight and white. His lips are parted slightly as he speaks to our photographer Brandon. His skin appears soft and unblemished; though his deeply lined face suggests both hardship and merriment. His light blue eyes are caught in the moment of remembering another time and place. As one surveys the face, one thinks, ‘Okay sir, I have read some of the other captions. What wisdom do you have to impart?’ He says this:

“You should kiss the ground you walk on if you were born in this country. Take it from a man who once had to wear the Star of David on his shirt. There’s a safety to living in such a diverse place. It’s much more difficult to brainwash a population that is composed of so many different nationalities and so many different viewpoints.”

We can only assume he escaped the holocaust?

I’m sure Brandon approaches people first based on diversity and interest. i.e. ‘this little girl in the red dress would make a lovely portrait against the backdrop of city sidewalk and graffiti’ed brick,’  or Brandon sees an elderly lady with a very interesting hairstyle and thinks, ‘I have to get her portrait.’  The photographer’s eye sees a young man with a very serious and sad face and lots of piercings. The photographic opportunity is the spark, but later, when the subject gives a quick interview… What’s their sentence or two? What have they to say?

A portrait and quote that stayed with me (I am an anthropologist at heart) is a quote from a rather large portent man seated on a bench. His hair is receding, dark, short, and he is not unattractive. He’s involved in something. A handheld game? A phone? He looks intelligent, cynical, unhappy, wary of our photographer/interviewer, and generally like he doesn’t want his picture taken. I could be wrong about any or all of these assumptions, or I could be right about any or all of them. He looks straight at the camera. He is an opinionated guy and he has something to say about what he calls MinMax theory which is something used in gaming. (It’s real; I looked it up.)

He says: “There’s a principal in game theory known as min-maxing, meaning that in any given system, behaviors will evolve that maximize gain for minimum effort. This means that a lot of thought has to be put in to bulletproofing a new system against min-maxing. Take the internet for example. The designers of the internet thought it was going to be this wonderful open community. They were expecting it to be nothing but unicorns shitting rainbows. But in come the min-maxers with their spam, bot nets and viruses.”

We assume he is a video game designer?


I live in Connecticut where it’s common for people to “take the train to the city” (NYC) for a day trip. I’ve never done so but plenty of people I know do it all the time. They “do” the restaurants, museums, get selfies taken with un-svelte people in stretched out super hero outfits (for a fee, of course), and sometimes they sit in on a free taping of the Jerry Springer or the Steve Wilkos show. Daytrippers beware as you could indeed become part of Brandon’s humanity project!

People who follow passions are inspiring and interesting. I’m thinking here, of the people involved in creating Pandora radio. Ever play Pandora? It’s that app (but so much more) where you can type in a favorite band (or just something you’re in the mood for)- let’s say Pink Floyd, and Pandora will play a whole series of songs in succession that are similar and sound like your selection. It really works. How innovative.

The concept is simple, right? A ‘station’ that plays a whole genre based on the listener’s selection. I can put my phone in my pocket while out walking the track (put my earphones in) and type in: Black Eyed Peas to get an uptempo walking selection of songs. Or when I’m mellow I can choose something else… Wiki says this: The idea was to create a separate, individualized radio station for each user having just the “good” music on it, with none of the “junk” that other users like. In order to achieve that goal, they had to bring different styles of music together into a predictable pattern for analysis. They created 400 specifications for each song that is then compared to the listener’s preferences in order to suggest other songs or artists with similar characteristics.

Anyway, I saw an interview about a guy who used to work for Pandora’s founder. By the way, he is a very “influential” person these days. But he built his career way back when- eight people at a time. It’s a romantic notion. You see he played in a band and the gigs they used to get were few and far between. He recalls travelling 100 miles just to play for eight people. But play they did.

I leave you with a mermaid’s purse, BECAUSE.

And remember, as long as you are not hurting anyone-pursue your passion(s).

Brandon’s HONY site:


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