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Photographer Honored for Raising $128K for Bed-Stuy YMCA

CITY HALL — The photographer who helped raise more than $128,000 for the Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA after his photos were allegedly stolen by DKNY was honored for his benevolence Thursday at City Hall.

Brandon Stanton, 29, who runs the popular street photography website "Humans of New York," made news in March when DKNY used photos from his website to decorate a Bangkok storefront, despite his earlier refusal to license DKNY images for $15,000. In lieu of payment, he asked the fashion company to donate to his local YMCA.

In a presentation at City Hall, Stanton was presented with a proclamation for his service. Bed-Stuy City Councilman Al Vann said the local photographer embodied the spirit of the neighborhood.

"Rather than asking to be paid personally, Brandon asked DKNY to donate," Vann said. "That's what Bed-Stuy people are all about."

The YMCA donation wasn't the first time Stanton has used his platform to benefit others. After Hurricane Sandy, Stanton partnered with Tumblr to raise almost $320,000 to help the relief effort.

Stanton, who lives in Bed-Stuy, discovered the storefront after an acquaintance forwarded photos, congratulating him for his "collaboration" with the company, he said. The Bangkok store had accidentally used an internal mockup containing Stanton's work, DKNY said at the time.

Though many of his friends advised him to obtain a lawyer and sue the company, Stanton said he wasn't interested in getting involved in a long legal battle.

"I thought to myself, 'How could I utilize my social media platform in a way that's not going to be personally enriching?'" Stanton recalled. "I decided that instead of asking for money for myself, how about giving it to a cause that I believe in?"

Stanton, who said he goes to the Bed-Stuy YMCA daily, appreciated the role the YMCA played in providing a stable environment for children in low-income communities, and publicly asked DKNY to donate $100,000 to his local branch. The company instead made a $25,000 donation.

In response, Stanton started an IndieGoGo campaign, asking his fans to raise the additional $75,000 themselves. The account ended up raising more than $103,000 in 72 hours for the YMCA kids summer camp.

The photos, meanwhile, were taken down soon after Stanton's campaign.

"We apologize for this error and are working to ensure that only the approved artwork is used," DKNY said in a Facebook post. "DKNY has always supported the arts and we deeply regret this mistake."

At Thursday's meeting, Stanton — camera in tow — met with members of the City Council, where he shared stories and asked to take photos of mayoral hopeful and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, which will no doubt end up on the "Humans of New York" website.

Stanton said his intention was never to frame DKNY as an "evil corporation." Instead, the photographer said, he just wanted to make the best out of a bad situation.

"Some bad decisions were made that resulted in my work getting used in an unlawful matter," Stanton said. "I was more interested in some sort of retribution that would benefit the community rather than just dragging them through the dirt."