Just some random captures of people out and about. I want to get better at street candids, so I’m practicing. These are a few good examples, at least I think they’re good, for me.
I saw this man crossing the street early in the morning, loaded down with his bags. I don’t think this shot would have worked in black-and-white – the hodgepodge of tweed jacket, American flag logo bag, Adidas bag, and the plastic shopping bag wouldn’t pop if they were tonally similar.
I’ve posted the boy on the bus sleeping before. This one DOES work better in black-and-white because the brightness of his hat and shirt contrast with his skin color and give him a very peaceful, almost angelic look.
This man is watching the overhead sign announcing the upcoming station. I caught him in an unguarded moment, doing what everyone does on the train. Hard to tell if he’s a tourist or a local.
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.
So far I’ve mostly been focusing on the infrastructure of commuting – the trains, the buses, the buildings, the mechanical bits. Here are a few shots of the human side – the reason the infrastructure exists in the first place.
It’s an all-too-common sight on the train or the bus – someone taking up two seats with their stuff. It doesn’t really matter when the train is more empty than not, but on a busy, full train during rush hour, well… it’s downright rude. Thus, the question gets asked, even if only in an internal monologue – “did your bag also buy a ticket?”.
Another very common part of the commuting experience is waiting. Waiting for the bus, waiting for the train, waiting for someone to come pick you up at the bus stop or train station. With the omnipresence of smartphones, nobody reads books or newspapers any more – instead it’s little glowing screens that light up their face with a deathly pallor as they hone in with a zombie-like intensity on the images and text being fed to them by an iSomething.
An interesting side effect of the way I take these photos is seeing what does and doesn’t move over time. This poor woman looks like she has hair of concrete as her face moves but her hair doesn’t.
I often use the Dupont Circle metro station not so much as a part of my commute but for going out on weekends or after work. These images are actually in a bit of a reverse order from how they were taken, going from streetside to platform. Dupont Circle’s escalator is legendary for its length – it is a very steep, very long escalator, but NOT, all legends to the contrary, the longest in the Metro system. The longest is actually at one of the outer suburban stations, Glenmont. Bethesda is also very long and very steep, longer than Dupont. Once I timed it to prove to a friend that Bethesda is longer, and it takes some 30 seconds longer to ride the Bethesda escalator to the top than the Dupont Circle escalator.
The entrance to the Dupont Circle station on the Q Street side is the one that has the long, deep escalators. It also has a relatively unique architecture with a circular aperture. Inscribed in the marble around the entrance shaft is a quote from Walt Whitman about the soldiers he nursed in the Civil War hospitals of Washington DC. The inscription was added in 2006 to honor the caregivers who gave so much of themselves in the fight against AIDS – Dupont Circle was particularly ravaged by that scourge, having been the heart of the gay community in DC. While perhaps no longer the geographic center of the gay community (it has moved to other, cheaper, and more geographically dispersed locations as times and attitudes have changed), Dupont Circle is still the spiritual home.
The quotation reads:
Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night — some are so young;
Some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad . . .
The poem in question, first published in 1865 as part of a collection called “Drum-Tips”, was originally titled “The Dresser”, and re-named “The Wound-Dresser” in later publications. In my image, the inscription is not legible, but the escalator tops plunge over the precipice of the entrance like a waterfall into a cavern, taking you down into the unknown.
The view looking up the escalator is equally vertiginous. Exiting at night you emerge from the confined but bright space of the underground into a dark circle of the open night sky. You’re falling UP into a different unknown.
Turning around and looking back down at where you came from, it’s a bit like Orpheus and Eurydice or Lot’s Wife, looking back at whence you came. Fortunately, the only time there’s instant regret is in the depth of winter when it’s 15 degrees F outside and the wind is whipping your face. And you don’t turn into a pillar of salt.
The flow of traffic up the escalator at the Dupont Circle platform:
Boarding the train:
Sorry if I can’t wax poetic for every image. It’s just as the mood strikes and the juices flow. Maybe if I have a show of this work I’ll edit my better bits of commentary out of the blog into quotes on the wall as captions for the images.
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.
I just like the staircase at the National Gallery because by itself it has a sculptural feel, and combined with the bronze torso, it becomes almost an installation piece in itself. Plus in a way it reminds me of Frederick Evans’ cathedral stairs photos.
This is another of my experiments with motion and time on the Metro. I wanted to convey that sense of anticipation as the train arrives like I did last time, but in this shot I wanted to give more of a sense of the space and also to have the fellow passengers more visible.
These two are views from the building in which I work during the day. I wanted to capture that birds-eye view of the city you get from inside a tall building, and include the building itself in the image, to remind you of the vantage point.