This is a one-off, as it stylistically doesn’t really fit with the rest of the Commuter Diary series. But it’s a really great image, so I’m posting it. I saw this young man dozing off on the bus on my way home from work the other day. It’s very representative of that kind of moment all of us have had when riding public transit – you’re tired, in need of a rest, and hoping you won’t oversleep your stop.
Looking down on the platform from the top of the escalator feels like you’re about to plunge over a precipice into an unknown below – will it be a deep pool, or full of jagged rocks? Will there be minnows, or will there be sharks?
Perhaps the most interpretive, impressionistic image of my commuter diary so far. Another long exposure where I panned the camera along with the train as it pulled in to the station. The panning along with the motion blur and the different lengths of time moving vs still give a uniquely layered image that requires you to engage and investigate to understand. I’m getting more and more intrigued by this style of exposure – the truly non-literal photograph.
Riding the down escalator with the shutter held open leaves nothing constant except the passenger in front of me. The changing perspective of the descending escalator puts the station entrance above where you would expect it to be.
a far more literal, sharp, precise image of a departing train. This is the first image in this series I’ve done with a tripod, because I wanted to catch the back of the train with some clarity before it departed. I’ll try it again later handheld and see which I like more. This has its charms even with the sharpness because the lights moving in a straight line are in some ways more forceful and direct.
Just a one-off from the series. This is looking out from the canopy over the McPherson Square Metro station at the intersection of 14th and I Streets NW. It was raining, and the cars and buses looked especially festive with their lights and signal indicators and illuminated signs.
This is a rare one I cropped because the ceiling and floor didn’t add to the composition, and being able to crop so the curving lines of the floor and ceiling led to the edges of the frame made it a much more dynamic image.
Look at these which are very similar to some I’ve done in black and white and note how different they feel for one being in color the other monochrome.
Don’t you relate to them differently?
Another example of the emotional effect of color- outside the train is dark, cold, and muted color, whereas inside is warm, glowing, alive and inviting. Wouldn’t you rather be inside the train than outside?
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).
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been playing around with this idea for a while. I don’t know that there’s anything particularly new about what I’m doing, either subject-wise or with technique. But I’m doing it as an exercise in freeing myself up creatively, forcing myself to be open to happy accident, and not getting hidebound with notions of what photography “should” look like. Photography is capable of recording and compressing time into a single frame, and I’m interested in exploring how we react and respond to seeing that. It’s not what we expect when we look at a photograph- we expect very short “frozen” moments, 1/250th of a second, blur-free, movement-free, sharp, literal. These photos are NOT that. They’re shot in B – long exposures made by my pushing the shutter button and letting go when I’ve decided I’ve captured “enough”, anywhere from a couple of seconds to closing in on a minute. So much can happen in just one minute.
I’m trying to capture the experience of being a regular commuter on public transportation. It’s an impressionistic approach to the concept, recording the passage of time and the movement through space of the vehicles and people in a public transit system. Rail system maps are in every car on every train in every city in the world that has a public rail system. It’s easy to separate the tourists from the commuters as the tourists are pouring over every detail of the map, and the commuters are doing their best to ignore it and everything and everyone else around them.
This is the view of the platform with a train at the station at Foggy Bottom, looking down the Up escalator. With the train relatively stationary, the zig-zaggy lightning-bolt forms of the station lamps captures the movement of my breathing as the camera hangs against my body. Even when standing still, movement is all around you, but that’s the nature of public transit, isn’t it? It’s all about constant movement, circulating people from one end of town to the other.
Every rail system (and bus system for that matter) has a means to support people who are standing while riding. The poles are a terrific convenience while riding, and a terrific obstacle when trying to exit. They grow near doors like chromed branchless brambles that collect passengers who are ready and waiting by the door for THEIR stop, transforming to boulders in the current throwing eddies and whirlpools in the tidal flow of commuters on and off the carriage.
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 mentioned in my post about Toronto how the different transit systems look and feel, even when capturing them in a similar way. Here are four shots of the Toronto, Paris and Washington DC subways. All four are behaving similarly – long handheld exposures as the trains pull in to the station, yet all four look and feel quite different.