Photographer’s Good Deed Proves Doing the Right Thing Is the Height of Fashion

Brandon Stanton called on DKNY to take the money it owed him and donate it to the YMCA’s summer camp program.
Brandon Stanton could have sued, but instead chose to help inner-city kids get to summer camp. (Photo: Brandon Stanton/Humans of New York Facebook Page)
Mar 9, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

If someone swiped your pictures and then used them to sell their own products, your first course of action may just be a giant lawsuit. It’s a perfectly sensible response. But when photographer Brandon Stanton was in that exact situation recently, he chose not to sue, but to commit an inspiring act of generosity instead. Why? Because clearly, Stanton is awesome.

The founder of the moving photo blog, Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton’s work is all about seeing people as they are: beautiful, flawed, idiosyncratic and inherently worthy of attention.

So when fashion mainstay DKNY inadvertently used 300 of his pictures for a window display campaign—without his permission—the photographer didn’t get mad or get even. He got thoughtful. Rather than accept his deserved fee, Stanton asked the label to donate $100,000 to his local YMCA so that more inner-city kids could attend summer camp.

The trouble started a few months ago. That was when, according to Stanton’s own Facebook post, DKNY approached him with a proposal. The label wanted to use 300 of his images for their international store-front campaign. In exchange, the photographer was offered $15,000.

Believing that $50 per picture was a pretty paltry sum from a corporation that amassed hundreds of millions of dollars of annual revenue, Stanton asked for more money; the label declined and the deal was off. (Sort of.)

Fast-forward to last month, and it was discovered that despite never having received authorization or made any payment, DKNY did in fact utilize Stanton’s photos in the displays of at least one of its stores in Bangkok.

The photographer was shocked. Without reaching out to the company himself, he simply posted a public Facebook plea, explaining his story and requesting that in compensation, DKNY donate a six figure sum to the Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA.

At last count, almost 40,000 people had shared that post and by the time news outlets picked up the story, DKNY responded with a post on its own Facebook page. The company apologized for the mistake and promised to make a $25,000 donation to the Bed-Stuy YMCA.

And then things got heated.

Stanton’s Facebook fans, clearly not excited about the fashion company’s rather limited donation, raised the requested funds themselves. In a post from this week, the photographer reported that 3,000 people chipped in over $100,000 in just 72 hours.

Now Stanton and his enthusiasts are calling on DKNY to match those funds, in the hopes of giving the YMCA over $200,000 to pay the way for summer camp kids.

DKNY hasn’t responded to this latest request as of yet, but Stanton remains ever gracious in his comments about the label. He told The Daily Beast, “I want it to be clear that I have no intention of personally enriching myself from this publicity at all. I will not litigate, and I will not accept money from them. I just want to give it to the YMCA.”

Clearly one of the messages here—and there are many, about corporate responsibility and the righteous power of an angered crowd—is also that social media means everyone gets a voice, and in this case, that voice has become the deciding factor in how a group of underprivileged children will spend their summer.

But equally important, Stanton’s personal lesson may just be that when you consistently make compassionate choices, the world will show up to defend your cause.