Humans Of Durban

Humans of Durban is a photographic census of sorts of the people of Durban, based on the original Humans of New York project. We’re going to be running a monthly feature showcasing our favourite shots so we decided to get some background info on the project and to give you a taste of what you’ll be seeing.


DIY: For those who aren’t in the know, what is the idea behind Humans of Durban? Can you give us a brief summary on how and when you decided to take the project on?

H.O.D: Humans of Durban is based on Humans of New York (known by fans as HONY), a street photography blog by Brandon Stanton. HONY has been going for about 2 years, and has posted about 5000 portraits of the fascinating people that frequent NYC. As HONY increased in popularity, other keen photographers all over the world started their own ‘Humans of…’ projects. About 2 months ago I was due to come home to Durban after a year abroad and I was looking for a way to explore my city, to improve my photography, and to interact with people in Durban I wouldn’t otherwise stop and chat to and decided the ‘Humans of…’ concept would be perfect.

Each situation, photograph and subject are different and should be treated as such and hopefully the diversity comes across on the blog.

DIY: The Humans of New York project eventually morphed into a blog that not only acted as a photographic census of the people of the city, but also shared their stories. Is this your eventual plan too?

H.O.D:  From its inception Humans of Durban has tried to tell a story along with each image. While portraits alone can be powerful, and while the ‘Humans of…’ projects are photographic and certainly benefit from quality photography – the point of the project is to share the story of the human behind the photograph. Often the captions give the readers a glimpse into the lives of the people I photograph. That personal interaction is not only important for me, as the photographer, but gives the subject a chance to say something and the readers a chance to interact, albeit online, with a fellow Human of Durban.


Some photographs need no captions.

DIY: Have you received any negative feedback about your project? Any worries about people accusing you of doing an almost stereotypical South African thing by ‘stealing’ another person’s idea and then placing it in an African setting under the guise of it now being ‘unique’ or ‘different’?

H.O.D:  The project has only being going for a month and with me not being a professional photographer and having been away from Durban, I was incredibly nervous about starting this project. But, within the first week, I forced myself to approach strangers and received the most wonderful feedback. I waited another 2 weeks to put the page up on Facebook and the response has been inspiring. The great thing about HONY is that his intention was for this project to grow  and for other cities and other photographers to do the same. There are hundreds of ‘Humans of…’ pages on Facebook, so there is no worry about ‘stealing’ this project, but rather, taking a great concept and approach and using it to showcase the uniqueness and diversity in Durban.



DIY: It seems to be a task that involves quite a bit of manpower and time, is there anyone else involved in helping you out? Are you not at times intimidated by the potential amount of work ahead of you?

H.O.D: People have asked to help out with the photography but I firmly believe in the original HONY model which uses one photographer. As a follower of HONY for a few months now, as a reader, I have a relationship with the photographer through his photographs and stories. The captions combined with the style of his photography all work together to create a narrative and I don’t believe this would be as effective with multiple photographers each with their own style and agenda. With regard to the manpower and time it requires, part of my intention in starting this project was so that it would ‘force’ me to carry my camera with me at all times, and I would be photographing every single day. And maintaining the blog in terms of content doesn’t require much more than that.


Anyone else see a slight Chris Rock resemblance?


DIY: What is your process when you photograph potential subjects? Are they aware of the project before their photograph is taken or do you only tell them afterwards as to keep them as natural and honest as possible? How often do people say no to being photographed, or no to their photo being used in the project? How do deal with each situation?

H.O.D: I approach each situation and subject differently. sometimes I’m driving in my car and have to pull over, sometimes I’m out with friends and other times I’ve gone to a specific area of Durban with the intention of getting portraits. I look out for interesting colors, patterns, people and surroundings. If I see something or someone that catches my eye, I approach them and explain I’m working on a project showcasing the people I see in and around Durban. I think it’s important that they know why I’m taking their photograph since the project is based on interaction with humans of Durban, and not just the photographing of them. Once I explain the project to people, they are mostly open to having their photograph taken and some are even willing to pose. I’ve had about just a handful of rejections since I’ve begun which helped me initially to not give up and has given me more confidence in approaching people. Sometimes they want to talk for a long time, sometimes they’re in a rush. Sometimes we have a language barrier, sometimes they don’t talk. Each situation, photograph and subject are different and should be treated as such and hopefully the diversity comes across on the blog.


If Durban had a mother - this is what she would look like.


DIY: Is there strict criteria that the photos have to be on par with before they are added to the collection? Or is the thinking more about content over quality?

H.O.D: If I focused on content over quality, I would just photograph every person on the street. I choose the subjects I photograph based on what catches my eye, something unique, something beautiful, something funny. Someone might match their surroundings, have a beautiful face, be dressed in contrasting colours or just be a cute kid. Being a photographic project, I do assess photographic quality but one thing I’ve learnt from HONY, who will often upload photographs that may be slightly out of focus, is that the photographs are not always about the quality, but rather about the story and the person who is being photographed.


"I get photographed a lot".


DIY: Are you ever worried about the project not showing a true reflection of the diverse races and cultures that make up our city? How far are you willing to explore to get a well rounded view of Durban? Are you nervous about having to explore the less ‘savoury’ parts of our city?

H.O.D:  Durban is one of the most diverse cities I’ve been to, so I thought it would be easy to get a truly contrasting and realistic representation of the people in the city, but it’s much harder than that. Street photography relies on the people who are on the street and in public places. But, what I’ve found in Durban, is that the streets consist of a particular type of person of a particular income level which can lead to a very limited portrayal on the blog. Sadly, my experience has been that there are only a few places with an almost accurate representation of culture, age, race and income level in Durban. This makes it difficult to get a true image of Durban, so I’ve started venturing into areas that would be more diverse as well as going to Durban events, but again, you run into the problem of only encountering people on the street, which once again may not be truly representative. I guess, those are the humans of Durban. I have found that the less ‘savoury’ parts of Durban have the more interesting people and people who are more willing to be photographed. Part of this project is showcasing areas of Durban that the blog readers may not be aware of or familiar with, so my goal is to explore and share.


"I worship with the Hindus, so I wear a lot of saris. I find that my spirituality is reflected in what I wear. I still go to church and pay my dues to Jesus Christ - but I just find myself spiritually restored by the ashram".


DIY: A good chunk of Durbanites do not have access to the internet and may never see the fruition of this project. How will you combat that and make it accessible to everyone?

H.O.D:  I’m not sure this project has a ‘fruition’. I think of it as more of an ongoing project. Most of the people I photograph are given a small card that explains the project with a link to the Facebook page. Perhaps not all of them can access the internet but I have been surprised by the vast amount of people who do have Facebook, which is also one of the reasons that the blog’s main audience is Facebook. It’s the most widely accessible platform. While I may not be able to make this project accessible to everyone I photograph, I can make the areas I photograph and the people I photograph accessible to a wider audience. And that’s really all I can control.


Here's looking at you, kid


DIY: Finally, where can we find Humans Of Durban and what plans do you have for the project? Can we expect a blog or website sometime soon?

H.O.D: Humans of Durban is brand new and has only been online for about a month. As a personal goal, I want the project to continue to be inspired by the people of Durban to explore the depths of this city and to interact with strangers that I may meet and to improve in my amateur photography. However, the nature of the project is public so I hope to grow it in terms of online audience, the diversity of the people I photograph and the quality of the photographs.

Humans of Durban is available on Facebook at and photographs are uploaded nearly every day. I am always looking for new areas, faces and events and invite people to share ideas on the the page. A blog/website will be put up in the next few months as the project grows.

"I am from Pakistan. I came to Durban for work. You see, in Pakistan there is no electricity, no water. Here is better for me."

I was not allowed to take this portrait until he was satisfied that I knew 2 facts. That his name was Vincent Jackson and that he was once on Idols. Once satisfied that I would retain this information, he took a few steps back from me and struck this pose.

"I love Durban. I was born here. I still swim in the ocean. The people are the most understanding people." "That's so true. Thank you for letting me take your portrait. I'm trying to get better at photography." "Don't worry. You will. You must just keep at it."

"This isn't going to end up in some police file, is it?"

8 Responses to “Humans Of Durban”
  1. Philip says:

    Fantastic blog. Humans of Durban facebook updates make my day, every time.

  2. Thea says:

    Humans of Durban can gladly take up more space on my newsfeed 🙂

  3. Chantal says:

    Love this, great idea. I get what you said about mainly hitting the streets but i really hope that you will be able to shoot the “Musgrave Mommies” as well as the “Market Mama’s” so we can get a well rounded picture of all the Humans of Durban.

  4. Sophia says:

    Musgrave moms would be epic. Or even better, head north of the river to those La Lucia moms! They are something else.

    Love the project to bits. Keep it up!

  5. Musgrave lady says:

    Agree with Sophia, you caught me in Musgrave Road – I enjoy your pics thank you

  6. Kish says:

    Love the pics! Work in a hospital and I think patients, especially the kids would make for some amaze photos x

  7. Siphamandla says:

    wow thats my grandfather Bekizitha, with white hair and white beard!

  8. Radmin says:

    That’s awesome! Bet you weren’t expecting to see him here.

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