This time, instead of being so infrastructure-focused, I thought I’d try being a bit more people-focused in my Commuter Diary. It’s one of the hardest things about this project – adding in the human element, getting a little less first-person in the experience and showing the other people using public transportation, while keeping it abstract. There’s a natural tendency when photographing people to want them to be absolutely sharp, clear, and obviously the main subject of the image. Well, when you’re throwing sharp, clear and objective out the window, how do you photograph people?
Riding the subway always involves a descent, a passage, and a re-emergence. It’s a normally terribly un-heroic journey that bears a very vague passing resemblance to the hero narrative of Joseph Campbell. Unless of course you’re claustrophobic and/or agoraphobic, whereupon riding the subway is an anxiety attack waiting to happen, and surviving the ride is a transformative experience.
Here is the descent into the underworld:
The passage through:
Emerging on the other side, returning to the daylight and the world of mortal men, the escalator ride up is both salvation and alienation, because who would understand or even believe your having done battle with a steel dragon and survived?
These are some first attempts at bringing the “experiential” style of photographing that I’ve been doing to bear on people. There have been a few attempts at doing pictures of individuals this way but they, at least to me, really don’t work. Maybe I’m being too rigid in my thinking, or maybe I’m dead on the money. Time will tell.
I found the shot I had taken of the NYC subway train oncoming. Again a bit impressionistic, but you can still feel the difference between it and the other city’s subways that I’ve photographed, even though the car isn’t at all visible in the exposure. I THINK this is the N/Q/R platform at 5th avenue and 59th street- it’s been a while since I took the shot.
Here are a couple more of my subway shots as a comparison. Please pardon the repetition of the recent post:
All shots taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E. Film used was either Ilford FP4+ for the b/w shots or either Kodak Portra 160 or Ektar 100 for the color.
I realize there are no people in the staircase shot so it’s not technically people-watching, but it’s part of the same space, and in a way the absence of people can be about the interaction of people with a space in the same way that people in the frame can be. All photos were taken with my Contax G2 and the 90mm and 21mm lenses. Film used was Kodak Ektar 100.
Just thought I’d do a re-visit of all my Glen Echo color work, to put them in one place. When I get a bit more organized, I’ll put my platinum/palladium Glen Echo photos together and do another mini-gallery. This has all been shot with a mixed bag of films and cameras. Mostly my Rolleiflex 2.8E, with one nod to my Canham 5×7 (the Glen Echo sign at night – it’s special enough it gets its own row). The films have been Kodak Portra 160NC, Kodak Ektar 100, Fuji NPS 160, and Fuji NPH 400. With the exception of the Ektar 100, most of the film used has been anywhere from a couple years out of date to almost a dozen years expired. Which says a lot about the quality of modern color film emulsions.
Part of the purpose of this exercise was in response to a discussion recently on an online photography forum I read where someone was complaining about how hard it was to take good photos in places you are familiar with. While I love travel photography (I’m getting ready to indulge in some serious travel photography early next year, probably one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips – I’ll keep you updated as the time approaches), I think it’s absolute baloney that you can’t take interesting photos of places you know and see every day. If anything, the opposite is true. But each type of photography requires a different mindset. Photographing on the road requires you to be able to filter out the extraneous detail because it’s ALL wondrous and new. Photographing at home requires you to turn off the detail filter so you start finding the interesting stuff you ignore because it’s what you see every day.
Photographing my own neighborhood is about recording and observing change – it’s like doing a series of portraits of the same person – this week in a suit, next week in a sundress, then later in an anorak, this year a little taller, next year a beard, the year after with a tan and a buzz cut. The Glen Echo photos are another form of portraiture, portraiture of a place. Places can have spirits and identities, and their face changes over time, just like a person’s.
I do on occasion actually shoot smaller format images, and even color once in a while. Here’s a graffiti grab shot I took with my Rolleiflex 2.8 E. Exposure unrecorded.
This was as much a test of film as it was playing with a camera. I was trying out the new Kodak Ektar 100. I’d say from this it was a great success. This was a scan from the negative, using Digital ICE for dust removal, a tiny bit of Unsharp Masking, and a little bit of color correction. No other manipulation.