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'Humans of Crown Heights' Riffs on Popular Street Photo Project

By Sonja Sharp | April 18, 2013 9:22am

CROWN HEIGHTS — It's Humans, hyperlocal.

When Bed-Stuy-based photographer Brandon Stanton started his Humans of New York Tumblr page in 2010, the denizens of Crown Heights were among his most popular subjects. 

Three years later, Stanton's urban street portraits have won fans around the world and inspired offshoots from Sydney to Tsvat, the latest of which brings the project full circle to Central Brooklyn. 

"When I saw Humans of New York I thought that's genius, I want to do that," said Shmuel Hellinger, 20, who has already earned nearly 800 Facebook "likes" for his two-week-old Humans of Crown Heights spin-off. "I wasn’t expecting so many people to like it, but it just spread like wildfire." 

Armed with only a smile and a Canon Rebel, Hellinger has spent the weeks since he began his project stalking the streets in search of the interesting people who make up his neighborhood. 

"Sincerity gets through all boundaries," Hellinger said. "If you’re just straight up with the person and speak from the heart and try to get what’s in their heart, they’re very open to it."

The page boasts pictures of everyone from flower-sellers and tourists to hipsters and Hasidim.

"Living in New York is like constantly living through culture shock, and that's a good thing," Hellinger quotes one of the subjects on the page as saying. "Diversity is really what makes New York New York, and Brooklyn Brooklyn."

Humans of Crown Heights isn't the only one to find inspiration (and Facebook fame) on Stanton's old stomping grounds. This past September, a small group of Brooklyn Tech sophomores created their own Humans page, dedicated solely to the school's 5,000-strong student body. 

"We realized how big Brooklyn Tech was and there are amazing people here that don’t get noticed," said Nowshen Pranthi, 15, one of the founders of the page.

"We've gotten a lot of attention for it. People from other schools look at it, too — people from everywhere. 

For Pranthi, Humans of Brooklyn Tech was a way to connect with fellow students, almost all of whom are strangers. 

"Talking to strangers is really scary, but the page has taught me not to worry about how strangers respond to you," she said. "Everyone that’s in those pictures are people we've never met before." 

For Hellinger, who recently returned to Crown Heights after years living in Miami, Israel and Pennsylvania, the project is a unifying force in a community once famous for its uneasy diversity, and once again struggling to absorb new residents. 

"I think people are striving for unity, even though it might be difficult at times," Hellinger said. "[The people in the photographs] are human beings — that’s it — regardless of who they are. I think that gets people."