Commuter Diary – Part 3

More of my Commuter Diary, this time in color. I like to go back and forth with the same subject in color and in black-and-white to see how they change both stylistically and emotively. As Edward Weston once said, “you can say things in color that you can’t say in black-and-white”. Truer words were never spoken – color photography has a totally different feel than black-and-white. I think black-and-white is more intellectual whereas color is more intuitive and emotional. Black-and-white, because it is an abstraction from reality, makes us look at a scene with a kind of detachment, whereas color draws us in and makes us experience the scene in a more visceral, less vicarious way.

This shot is, quite frankly, a bit of a mystery to me as to how I took it – I THINK it was one I panned with the train as it pulled into the platform, then held the camera still while the doors opened, but certain aspects of it feel like a multiple exposure (which I know I didn’t do, certainly not intentionally).

Train, Arriving
Train, Arriving

Using color implies or alleges reality (although as photographers and photo-savvy people we know that photographs can and do lie about the subjects they represent, especially as regards to the accuracy of color), so we identify more closely with color images and accept them as “more real”, to the point that we experience cognitive dissonance when we see color represented/manipulated as “different” from what we “know”. Some of this comes from a clash of expectation vs reality, and some of it comes from the way our brains work – we sit down in a room lit by fluorescent light and after the briefest of adjustments, we see “normal” colors despite the fact that we can objectively prove that the fluorescent light source is missing certain portions of the visible spectrum.

The commuting experience, especially on public transit, is as much about waiting as it is about traveling. Here is a view of Metro Center, one of the major transit hubs on the subway system in Washington DC. Four different rail lines pass through this station, so there is always activity. The two people standing mostly still in dark clothing frame the blurry person in the red jacket. The touch of color draws your eye to the center of the frame as much as the leading visual lines do, and it gives the scene an energy and intensity that would be missing in black-and-white.

Awaiting Train, Metro Center
Awaiting Train, Metro Center

Riding the bus is a very different experience from riding the subway. For the most part, one is indoors and the other is outdoors. Even if they do run with comparable frequency, waiting for the bus feels like it takes longer than waiting for the subway, perhaps because in certain parts of the city, many bus routes visit the same stops, so there may be a bus coming every five minutes but it might be twenty-five before your bus arrives.

The S2, to SilverSpring
The S2, to SilverSpring

One of the things I’ve always liked about night photography is the effect of multiple color-temperature light sources in the same scene. The impact is thrown into high relief in a scene like the bus, where the background is lit with yellow incandescent lights, the streets are orange/pink from sodium vapor, and the bus interior is bluish-white from most likely LED lamps. The colors and their cognitive dissonance bring out emotional dissonance as we read back and forth between elements of the scene – the emptiness of the darkness, the warmth of the background, the alien color of the near-ground, the inviting orange of the bus signage, and the ghostly hospital white of the interior of the bus.

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