Brandon Stanton moved to New York in 2010 with two suitcases and a goal of taking 10,000 photos. Since then, he's told dozens of stories with his portraits, and he's managed to create a community within a city of millions.
The 3,000-word letter was written on the back of a mirror.
This article originally appeared on 04.15.19
On May 28, 2014, 13-year-old Athena Orchard of Leicester, England, died of bone cancer. The disease began as a tumor in her head and eventually spread to her spine and left shoulder. After her passing, Athena's parents and six siblings were completely devastated. In the days following her death, her father, Dean, had the difficult task of going through her belongings. But the spirits of the entire Orchard family got a huge boost when he uncovered a secret message written by Athena on the backside of a full-length mirror.
After removing the mirror from the wall, Dean discovered a 3,000-word letter written all the way down its backside in black pen. "She never mentioned it, but it's the kind of thing she'd do," her father told People magazine. "She was a very spiritual person, she'd go on about stuff that I could never understand – she was so clever." The moving letter revealed her deepest feelings about her fight with the dreaded disease. "Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life-ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day," she wrote. "Life is only bad if you make it bad."
Although Athena is gone, the mirror now serves as a powerful memory of her undying spirit. "We're keeping the mirror forever, it is a part of her we can keep in the house, it will always be in her room," her mother, Caroline, said. "Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us, she had such an incredible spirit."
Athena's full message:
"Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it's not about the happy ending, maybe it's about the story. The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. Happiness is a direction not a destination. Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story.
You have heard what I've done, but not what I've been through. Love is like glass, looks so lovely but it's easy to shatter.
Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change. Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad. If someone loves you, then they wouldn't let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs.
Never give up on something you can't go a day without thinking about. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say my life has changed since I met her!
Love is not about how much you say I love you – it's about how much you can prove it's true. Love is like the wind, you can feel it but you can't see it. I'm waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to. Love is not about who you can see spending your future with, it's about who you can't see spending your life without… Life is a game for everyone but love is the prize. Only I can judge me.
Sometimes love hurts. Now I'm fighting myself. Baby I can feel your pain. Dreams are my reality. It hurts but it's okay, I'm used to it. Don't be quick to judge me, you only see what I choose to show you… you don't know the truth. I just want to have fun and be happy without being judged.
This is my life, not yours, don't worry about what I do. People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that's what makes you… you!
There's no need to cry because I know you'll be by my side."
Even politicians' children deserve privacy during a mental health crisis.
Editor's Note: If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 200+ crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
It's an unspoken rule that children of politicians should be off limits when it comes to public figure status. Kids deserve the ability to simply be kids without the media picking them apart. We saw this during Obama's presidency when people from both ends of the political spectrum come out to defend Malia and Sasha Obama's privacy and again when a reporter made a remark about Barron Trump.
This is even more important when we are talking about a child's mental health, so seeing detailed reports about Ted Cruz's 14-year-old child's private mental health crisis was offputting, to say it kindly. It feels icky for me to even put the senator's name in this article because it feels like adding to this child's exposure.
When a child is struggling with mental health concerns, the instinct should be to cocoon them in safety, not to highlight the details or speculate on the cause. Ever since the news broke about this child's mental health, social media has been abuzz, mostly attacking the parents and speculating if the child is a member of the LGBTQ community.
Cruz's child should not have to have her most vulnerable moment broadcasted around the globe. Adolescent children are notoriously private and may easily feel embarrassment or shame, except they generally have far less tools to know how to cope. The media listing so much information about the child's attempt at self-harm will likely do more harm than anything else thanks to a teen's proclivity to feel shame.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 and nearly 20% of high school students have seriously contemplated suicide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Kids that are LGBTQ are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers that are not a part of the LGBTQ community, according to The Trevor Project. It's clear that mental health issues that lead to either attempted or completed suicide are not relegated to a certain political party's children. It's a widespread issue plaguing parents and mental health professionals across the country.
If you couple the shame aspect with the stigma surrounding mental health, you're creating a recipe for disaster. We're talking about a teenager who has to go to school with peers who know who her father is. This isn't some unnamed child that no one would put the pieces together on. Once you name the politician and state the age and gender of the child, there's no mistaking who you're talking about.
Reporters aren't bound by HIPAA laws and there's not always a regard for protecting someone's privacy if the story is salacious enough. That's not to say that people who report the news are intent on hurting children, it's that sometimes we don't always think about the person on the other side of the story, especially the parents of a hurting child who will have to deal with the consequences of the report.
Media and consumers should use this moment to take a step back and look at how we view children of politicians and celebrities. Should they really be a commodity because their parents chose a public career? Should we disregard the very real pressure these kids are under to report intimate details of a tragic event? Or should we simply remember they're children and didn't ask for their moments of weakness to be laid out on display for the world?
I personally believe we should allow them to be children and we should remember what it was like at their age so we can fully appreciate how they might feel seeing their private suffering out in the world. I'm not saying not to report, I'm saying use discretion. A simple blurb that said, "One of Senator Cruz's children has been injured and taken to the hospital, but they are expected to make a full recovery," would have been plenty of information.
The world didn't need the details, and hopefully if something like this happens in the future to a family in the spotlight, the media will do a better job at protecting the child's privacy. Here's wishing Cruz's child a speedy recovery and future mental wellness.
The 95-year-old's 'bold, creative decision' to die on Thanksgiving when the whole family was at her house led to this chaotic masterpiece.
A loved one dying on a holiday isn't normally something to laugh about, but there are exceptions to every rule. This video is one of them.
TikTok user Darien (@dairy.n) shared a story about his family's Thanksgiving Day that is so gloriously bizarre and delightfully real, it's hard not to laugh, despite the fact that it's about his aunt dying. The fact that he tells the tale in the style of a "One thing about me" rap is extra hilarious, and judging by the comments of some of the 6.7 million people who've watched it, it's struck people's funny bones.
Dark humor? A little bit. But his aunt was 95 and she died of natural causes, which helps the hilarity feel not quite so inappropriate. She also apparently had a fabulous sense of humor that she used to cope with her own difficulties throughout her life, so the video is more like a fitting tribute than a what-the-heck storytelling.
There is plenty of what-the-heck here, though. I tell you, I was not prepared.
It's one of those videos you simply have to see—and process—for yourself. Off we go:
This is a healthy way to process things right?
OK, but that rigor mortis dance? Epic.
One thing that's so relatable about this video is that so many things are happening at once, and you can picture exactly what it must have been like to be there. The grieving, of course, but also the logistics of "What do we do with her body?" and the "Well, we already have all of this food and we need to eat anyway," is just totally real. People don't talk about the practical parts of someone dying like this very often, but it's part of the death process. And when it's a very old person whose time has naturally come, it's not really a tragic death, so a little humor—especially if the person would have appreciated it—can be a totally appropriate way to handle it.
Darien posted a follow-up video to explain a little bit about who his aunt was, which makes the viral video all the better.
You better apprecciate how earnest im being because from here on out it’s silly hours.
If you're not familiar, the Holodomor was a deliberate famine in which Stalin's regime starved nearly 4 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933. After being largely ignored for decades, in recent years it has been officially recognized as a genocide against the Ukrainian people.
Here's a YouTube video of her playing piano at age 92. Impressive.
Auntie Taissa clearly lived a good long life, and what better way for a performer to go out than with a viral video about you that brings people joy?
'AI art isn't cute.'
Odds are you’ve probably seen those Lensa AI avatars floating around social media. You know, the app that turns even the most basic of selfies into fantasy art masterpieces? I wouldn’t be surprised if you have your own series of images filling up your photo bank right now. Who wouldn’t want to see themselves looking like a badass video game character or magical fairy alien?
While getting these images might seem like a bit of innocent, inexpensive fun, many are unaware that it comes at a heavy price to real digital artists whose work has been copied to make it happen. A now-viral Facebook and Instagram post, made by a couple of digital illustrators, explains how.
In a very thorough series of slides, Gen Ishihara and her fiance Jon Lam reveal that Lensa is easily able to render those professional looking images by using a Stable Diffusion model, which is more or less an open source (meaning free) program where users can type in a series of words and artificial intelligence will conjure up images based on those typed words. Type out a group of seemingly unrelated words like “ethereal,” “cat,” “comic style” and “rainbow,” and out will pop at least one cohesive, intricate piece of art. All in less than a minute. This foundation is what most mainstream AI art software operates on, by the way—not just Lensa.
"...there's more than meets the eye"
The problem here is that Stable Diffusion has been trained on yet another open source collection of data from a nonprofit called LAION. LAION has more than 5 billion publicly accessible images. If you can find it online, LAION has a picture of it, categorized as “research.”
Not only does this include copyrighted work, but also personal medical records, as well as disturbing images of violence and sexual abuse. But for the sake of not delving too far into darkness, we’ll focus on the copyright issue.
LAION's database includes copyrighted work, personal medical records and disturbing images of violence and sexual abuse.
While LAION might be a nonprofit, Stable Diffusion is valued at $1 billion. And Lensa (which uses Stable Diffusion) has so far earned $29 million in consumer spending. Meanwhile, artists whose work can be found in that database have made zero.
“The Lensa app is a great way to get the general public comfortable with using the software and turn a blind eye to how the data was collected. The technology is so new that laws have not caught up with AI tech yet. But that doesn't make it okay,” the post read.
"The Lensa app is a great way to get the general public comfortable with using the software and turn a blind eye to how the data was collected."
Ishihara and Lam listed real artists who have been affected by Lensa’s use of data laundering, including Greg Rutkowski, whose “name has been used as a prompt around 93,000 times.” He even had his name attached to a piece of AI art that he did not create. Again, simply type in “Greg Rutkowski” along with whatever thing you want illustrated, and the program will create something drawn in his style.
You can see why someone who dedicated a good portion of their life to developing a skill that now can be replicated at a fraction of the effort—and without earning compensation—might not be a huge fan of these trends.
Maybe it's more than harmless fun.
The post then followed up by debunking several pro-AI statements, first pointing out that AI programs are being updated and improved so fast that distinguishing it from the work of human art is becoming impossible—meaning that it does in fact threaten the livelihood of a real artist who simply cannot compete with a machine.
Also shown was a poster created in Midjourney to promote the San Francisco Ballet’s upcoming “Nutcracker” performance, showing that AI media has indeed already begun to replace human jobs.
One of the most common arguments in the AI debate is that all art is derivative, since artists similarly draw inspiration from other sources. While this is true, Ishihara and Lam would contend that the organic process of blending “reference material, personal taste and life experiences to inform artistic decisions” is vastly different than a computer program depending on data that is existing artistic property and then used for commercial purposes without consent.
Adding further credibility to this viewpoint, there’s another post floating around the internet showing Lensa portraits where a warped version of the artist’s signature is still visible (seen below).
I’m cropping these for privacy reasons/because I’m not trying to call out any one individual. These are all Lensa portraits where the mangled remains of an artist’s signature is still visible. That’s the remains of the signature of one of the multiple artists it stole from.— Lauryn Ipsum (@LaurynIpsum) December 6, 2022
A 🧵 https://t.co/0lS4WHmQfWpic.twitter.com/7GfDXZ22s1
Rather than doing away with AI art altogether, what Ishihara, Lam and others are pushing for are better regulations for companies that allow for this technology to coexist with human artists.
This might be easier said than done, but some progress has already been made in that arena. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for example, has begun demanding that corporations destroy any algorithm or AI models built using personal information or data collected “in bad faith or illegally.”
Second, they want people to educate themselves. Several other artists agreed that people who have used apps like Lensa aren’t wrong for doing so, but that moving forward there needs to be awareness of how it affects real people. Really, this is pretty much the case for all seemingly miraculous advancements in technology.
And for the creators feeling hopeless by all this, Ishihara and Lam say “whatever you do, don’t stop creating,” adding that it’s more important than ever to not “give up on what you love.”The conversation around the ethical implications of AI is complex. While posts like these might come across as a form of fear-mongering or finger-wagging, it’s important to gather multiple points of view in order to engage in nuanced conversations and move forward in a way that includes everyone’s well-being.