When Brandon Stanton started his page Humans of New York in 2010, he probably had no idea that his project would become so popular that people all over the world would follow in his footsteps and create more than 500 ‘Humans of’ pages. Some time ago I had the pleasure to meet the author of one of them – Cathy Teesdale, the photographer behind the Humans of Greater London page. Cathy explains why photographing people with a kind eye and telling a little of their stories can be a powerful tool to change the world.

Humans of Greater London author | NATALIA PHOTOGRAPHY

When and how did you start?

On 1st December 2013. I’ve done quite a lot of solo travelling around the world over the years, and the biggest thing it’s taught me is that the huge majority of people are basically decent, kind and reasonable. If you don’t make yourself vulnerable and open up to others, or ask for their help, then you don’t get to experience the kindness of strangers, and you can believe the pretty ugly version of humanity which the mainstream media keeps feeding us. So I was already quite happy to talk to strangers and, in the 15 months I’ve been doing HoGL, I’ve met so many wonderful, inspiring people who just restore my faith in humanity, over and over and over again.

I was a little late to the Humans of… party as I only discovered HONY in late 2013. So when I searched for Humans of London pages I found there were already 3 – though one was called Humans of London City. One was taking not-very-good snaps of London scenes, not really doing portraits and with no quotes, the other seemed to be featuring quite a lot of minor celebrities at launches, and the ‘London City’ one was doing portraits and interviews in the HONY style, but with quite a stylised, bleached-out look. So I thought ‘I can add something here’. Then a friend suggested the name Humans of Greater London and it was available, and I loved the acronym HoGL, so I went with that. Now it’s my own made-up word – I use it as both a noun and a verb – as in ‘can I please HoGL you?’ It’s quite close to ‘hug’ or ‘cuddle’, which I like, and ‘mug’ which is not quite so good, but people generally seem to enjoy being accosted by me!

So what is Humans of Greater London for you now?

It’s become all about inspiring and connecting people. I passionately believe that we need so much more humanity in the world – more empathy, more kindness and understanding, and a lot less prejudice, division and fear. We’re always being fed these horror stories about disasters, terror, and all the hideous things people are doing to each other. That’s ‘the news’. Where’s all the positive stuff?

It’s not selling.

I don’t really believe that argument – ‘Oh, we’re just giving people what they want’. I think if you asked people “would you rather be inspired by your newspaper or depressed?” nobody would say they’d rather be depressed. Yes, we’re all yin and yang and it’s true that we all have our dark sides, but they don’t need to be encouraged. On a wider scale I do think it’s part of the big plan – to keep people distracted, divided and depressed, so we all won’t all stand up together and say “Can we all stop the madness please?”. To do that we need to build our faith in each other. I also feel that some “Humans of” pages can focus a little too much on the sad stories. I try hard to capture a wide range of stories, from the ecstatic to the tragic and everything in between. Because sympathy is good but addiction to hearing about other people’s tragedies isn’t, and empathy and inspiration are even better.

How do you think the “Humans of” pages can change the world?

I’m an eternal optimist and I have this dream. Because there are now well over 500 Humans of pages around the world, and Brandon has proved, through HONY, that there are lots of generous people out there who can be inspired to donate to causes like the Mott Hall Bridges Academy and really make a difference, I’d love it if all of these  pages could somehow try, together, to inspire millions and then billions to join hands and hearts, in the name of humanity, and say ‘let’s change the rules to create a fairer, kinder, more sustainable world!’ While you believe that ‘change will never happen’, it will never happen. People in power will never give it up willingly. I absolutely don’t believe in bloody revolutions, because when they end you tend to end up with other power-crazed people in charge, but I do believe, like Russell Brand and Gandhi, in power of the peaceful but awakened masses.

And how can “Humans of” pages make it happen?

They can bring people together, convince us that we’re all the same, as humans, despite our differences. We all laugh, we all feel pain, we all feel joy, and most of us just want to be able live our lives in peace, have a safe, warm home and enough to eat, have fun, love and be loved, and do something useful or creative with our time. So our common humanity is what we have to focus on. We have to believe in each other and take back our power. One water drop dripping on its own is annoying but with a few water drops you can have a drink, or clean something. With more water drops you can have a shower, do the washing up, and so on. Finally you get rivers and torrents and a tidal ocean which can’t be resisted. All those tiny water drops, so insignificant or annoying on their own, once joined together can become an unstoppable force!

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