For this assignment we are asked to decide on a notional client, the purpose of the assignment and how the images would be used.

 

The Client

As a client, I’ve long been an avid reader of the Sunday Times Magazine, Spectrum section, launched in 2007 to highlight some of the most interesting photography, sometimes a full feature, sometimes several smaller sets from different photographers.  I decided my client would be a submission to the picture editor of this section, providing a set of images suitable for a section towards a small feature.

 

The Subject

For this assignment, I took my inspiration from an image by Walker Evans in Geoff Dyers book, The Ongoing Moment, of a blind accordion player making his way through a crowded subway car, taken by Walker Evans.

Blind accordion player – Walker Evans 1938 [ONLINE] Available at: http://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/ph/web-large/PH5592.jpg. [Accessed 10 February 2014].

In 1938 Walker Evans went underground to photograph passengers on the New York City Subway.  Interested in capturing the everyday routines of anonymous people, Evans wanted to catch his subjects unaware. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he wrote, “even more than when in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors). People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.”

Between 1938 and 1941, using a hidden camera, Evans photographed his subjects in these unguarded moments, capture people lost in their own thoughts and moods. He painted the shiny chrome of his camera black and hid it under his coat so that the camera lens surreptitiously peeked out between two buttons.

Walker Evans,Subway Passenger, New York – 1941 Masters of Photography: Walker Evans. 2014. Masters of Photography: Walker Evans. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.masters-of-photography.com/E/evans/evans_subway3_full.html. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

On looking through Evan’s images from the subway series, I really liked this woman, watching, perhaps lost in thought, with the close crop and perhaps burning to islate her from other passengers.

Photography on city underground systems is a reoccurring theme, repeated again by Bruce Davidson in 1980 with his series Subway, even capturing a blind accordion player.

Subway – Bruce Davidson 1980 . [ONLINE] Available at: http://mediastore3.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR2/1/3/7/a/NYC5982.jpg. [Accessed 10 February 2014].

It was repeated again by Luc Delahaye in the 1990’s for his project L’Autre.  He secretly took images of fellow passengers as the doors of the subway came to a close.  He then cropped the resulting images tight leaving only faces and a hint of the subway around them.

Luc Delahaye – Six pictures from “L’Autre” series [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/sullivan/Images/sullivan4-10-11.jpg. [Accessed 12 February 2014].

He said of this:   “I am sitting in front of someone to record his image, the form of evidence, but just like him I too stare into the distance and feign absence. I try to be like him. It’s all a sham, a necessary lie lasting long enough to take a picture.”

I decided to use the London Underground system, partially as a UK equivalent to the subway, but also because as a tourist destination the camera would be largely ignored or expected.  I was also concious of the need to show learning from the course so planned to use all aspects of the travel system, especially as some stations have architectural and aesthetic appeal.  I planned to show not only the passengers, as the artists mentioned above have, but also their journey to becoming passengers, once they entered the tunnel system, people in the place.

 

The brief

In previous courses, I’ve been interested in how people find their own personal space in busy environments and I discovered the same in the tube, but perhaps exagerated because of the unwritten rule.  No talking, no eye contact. Not even under the most dire of circumstances.  Passengers therefore seemed to spend the time in reflection, lost in thought whilst in a busy public space, or using distractions such as reading material or mobile phones.

My brief would be, in today’s modern, busy transport system, like Walker Evans,  could you still capture those unguarded moments as the journeys were made.

 

The planning

As I only had weekends available, I decided to drive to the outskirts of London, then travel in to the centre and move around the underground system.  This would give me the most amount of travel opportunity but also meant that I could plan gallery visits as a break from the travelling.

In a twist of fate, I had ended up mimicking Walker Evans technique.  Following two operations near my eye which left me unable to use my camera in the normal way, I developed a technique of carrying my camera at waist height, slung over my shoulder and triggering the shutter with the palm of my hand whilst it pointed sideways to my body.  Using custom settings to put the camera into silent mode meant the image taking, whilst slightly hit and miss, went undetected.  I did use some of the noises from the train to mask the slight shutter sounds when very close.  I continued to mix this method with normal usage after the healing, as I liked the results it gave, especially with the wide angle from a low perspective.

Also like Walker Evans, I took with me my wife on one occasion and my youngest son on another, as possible distractions, to see if there was a difference in the photography and to be honest as a justification to the time used.  We could have family time travel to London events and exhibitions and I could use the travel time as my project time.

From previous travels and growing up in London, I already knew of some interesting stations and platforms, but luckily had a contact who worked for London Transport on the tube system who gave me some valuable advice to possible locations. I also used Flickr to further research these suggestions.

With a holiday planned for the beginning of March, I gave myself the time scale of completing this assignment by the end of February.

 

The Surprise

Having planned the project and started shooting it, The Sunday Time supplement section ran two images from Richard Gray, from his project, the person opposite.  He was this years mobile device winner of the Terry O’Neil photography awards.

Sunday Times Spectrum – Richard Gray – January 2014

Richard Gray – The person opposite – Terry O’Neill Photography Awards 2013 : The Winners . 2014. Terry O’Neill Photography Awards 2013 : The Winners . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.oneillaward.com/. [Accessed 23 February 2014].


We are strangers and we have different destinations. We share a space for a short time. We see each other but we don’t communicate. We see each other but we don’t see each other. We see each other and we share the same head space for a short time. We are the person opposite. – Richard Gray

This project was shot entirely on a mobile phone, during the photographers daily commute.  So there was my challenge – could I do better?

 

The images

Unlike Richard Gray, I decided to shoot in black and white as I thought this would link  back to my original inspiration, the blind accordion player by Walker Evans.  With black and white, it is easier to emphasize drama by creating images which have strong contrast which would be assisted by the sometimes harsh but always changing light levels within the underground system.  It also helped remove some of the strong colours, such as on warning signs,  which I found distracting from the subjects.

I was also reminded of an often quoted Canadian photojournalist Ted Grant – “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Over the 14 visits I took several hundreds of images, which I then used digital contact sheets within Adobe Lightroom to assist with initial selection of images.  I like doing this within the Library module as it’s easy to zoom or full screen the thumbnails.

As I shot in raw, the initial process was to whittle down the images before converting to monochrome.

People and place – Assignment 5 – Contacts 1

People and place – Assignment 5 – Contacts 2

People and place – Assignment 5 – Contacts 3

 

From my images, I narrowed them down to an initial selection of 52 which I liked and then down to a selection of 25.  Looking through my final 25 selections it became obvious that these actually worked better as two different projects.  Whilst the people as passengers worked to my brief of capturing unguarded moments, my images outside of the carriages fitted more into previous exercises, linking people with the place. I still really liked the images, but they didn’t meet my brief I’d set.

 

The final selection

People and Place – Assignment 5 – Reflective

Canon EOS 5D Mark III f11 at 14mm,  1/40s iso2000

I wanted to take an image of a passenger with the underground logo, but this was only exposed as the doors closed, briefly before the train departed.  I tried several times, but really liked this image of the woman sneaking a glance out of the window, perhaps at the passenger walking past, reflected in the trains paintwork.  Shot again using my 14mm lens as I had to stand close to the train so that people walked behind me and not into the shot.

 

People and Place – Assignment 5 – Joining

Canon EOS 5D Mark III f11 at 14mm, 1/50s iso8000

Shot using my 14mm manual lens whilst stood in the doorway of the busy carriage, about 2 feet away from the subjects.  This lens has a softness in the corners but I think adds to the image.  I’d been photographing this passenger with the flowers as he balanced them and his shopping, whilst also having a camera slung around his neck and trying not to get all damaged in the crush.  I liked this image for the visual expressions, the look of concern as passengers are about to get on, the traveller waiting, looking to see if there is a space and sandwiched between them the older gentleman making his way forward unknowing of this small drama.

People and place – Assignment 5 – Oy!

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 1/40s f/7.1 at 24.0mm iso2000

During my travels I spotted a few dogs on trains, mostly carried, which I thought unusual, as my dog would be very uncomftable in attempting such travel.  As mentioned, I did discover that many people use their phones as a means of distraction and somewhere to direct their attention.  I like the humour in this image of the small dog (child substitute?) trying to get the attention of the male.  This image was shot with the camera on my lap whilst sitting almost opposite them.

The dog being a dark colour is almost lost into the background but the gaze of the woman towards it starts makes it be seen, which starts a nice triangle between the three characters.

 

People and place – Assignment 5 – Spotted

Canon EOS 5D Mark III f8 at 14mm, 1/50s iso2500

Again shot from two feet away with the camera slung over my shoulder and pointing sideways, I was interested in the way that everyone was desperately trying not to look at anyone else, despite the carriage being busy.  This was the only time I knew I’d been spotted as the girl in the corner was looking suspiciously at me several times, so I just looked at her, smiled, winked and carried on.

I thought there was a nice dynamic of the main character faces following the lines in the roof panels, giving a flow through the image left to right, until you came to the suspicious girl on the right, just peeking into the frame.

 

People and Place – Assignment 5 – Lost in thought

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 1/40s f/7.1 at 24.0mm iso500

I’ve several images of this passenger as he sat opposite me as I became really interested in him. He seemed completely lost in thought for several stops. I like this image as it asks the question of what he was looking at.  Was he just ignoring eye contact or was there something going on further down the carriage?

 

People and Place – Assignment 5 – Asleep

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 1/40s f/7.1 at 47.0mm iso3200

At the end of a long day, we headed back to the outskirts where I’d parked the car. I spotted this shopper nodding off and waking her self up, so as the carriage emptied, I took the opportunity to sit close to her.  Again this was shot with the camera on my lap, facing slightly sideways and was taken as the train emerged from the tunnels into an overground section.

I shot this image several times, at various focal lengths, but decided on this final, cropped image, which removed a distracting handrail from the left of the image.

 

Peoplel and place – Assignment 5 – That unwritten rule

Canon EOS 5D Mark III f16 at 14mm, 1/40s iso12800

Taken again with my 14mm lens with the camera on my lap, I thought this a perfect example of the unwritten rule.  I’d smiled at the girl sitting opposite me but she put her headphones on and was intently staring at the poster above.  Everyone else was trying to avoid any eye contact.  Only my son sat next to me, reflected in the window, is looking, but then he knows what’s going on.  This is again a cropped image as I thought it reflected the shape of the carriage, almost like a cross section cut.

 

People and Place – Assignment 5 – Watch with mother

Canon EOS 5D Mark III f16 at 14mm, 1/40s iso3200

Shot again with my wide angle lens at a distance of approximately 18 inches to 2 feet, these boys were playing with the pole, trying to touch the hand of a stranger, who repeatedly moved it within and out of reach.  Such an innocent game, with the boys laughter filling the busy carriage, yet even then only glances were given from the other passengers. Even the mother, stood closest in the coat, looks weary from there day out and is lost in thought elsewhere.  The boys are slightly out of focus, possibly due to the slow shutter speed and their movement, but it does focus the attention onto the passengers in the background.

 

People and place – Assignment 5 – Lovestruck

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, f16 at 14mm, 1/80s iso10000

As the carriage emptied towards the end of the line, the mother and boys took the seats and the tiredness took over.  Shot close from about 1 foot with my wide angle lens, I wanted to include this image to link with the previous and tried to use the depth of field to link both her and the boys.  What I didn’t spot until processing is the figure at the far end of the carriage and the title is designed to make you investigate the image.

 

Conclusion

I started with a clear idea of my brief, to capture unguarded moments, but allowed myself to get distracted within other aspects and opportunities of the transport system.  This may have been subconsciously through seeing Richard Gray’s images or because I was amazed by some of the architecture I found, from modern and futuristic, to art deco. There’s a whole other project there I feel.

I did however primarily concentrate on my brief during the many weekends of travel and so was able to concentrate on my brief during the editing and selection process.  I tried to vary my visiting times through out the day to add variety and I think that may be the difference between this project and ones taken during commuting time.  It would however have been very easy to have just shown travellers asleep or using their mobile phones.

The technical aspects turned out initially to be challenging, taking images close to people without being spotted.  I researched my camera settings which would suit best to my advantage and found that a preset manually focussed lens with a narrow aperture worked well.  I use a depth of field calculator to work out the best settings and some experimentation, improving as the visits mounted up.  Initial attempts were often ruined by a slow shutter speed and it gave me a new appreciation for Walker Evan’s technique as the technical abilities of cameras now have greatly surpassed what he worked with.

For the printing of the images, I initially used my normal lustre paper selection from the lab but was disappointed in the flatness of the images as they didn’t appear to have the depth I was after. I had the images reprinted onto pearl paper which I’ve also experimented with previously on TAOP and was much happier with the resulted depth and clarity.  I think the metallic quality of the paper also links to the physical qualities of the transport system.

I did consider the ethics of taking images without knowledge or permission, considered the moral and legal obligations. I decide that as history is filled with similar images and with today’s modern surveillance, especially on the tube system, constantly taking images, thought that my approach was acceptable provided I didn’t show any traveller in a derogatory way.  I found a very good article on the subject on the Keen Graphics Blog,

I did consider whether to include the first image, as it wasn’t taken inside the carriage. It was one of the images that I’d thought of and I thought the execution worked well, especially with the reflected person in the carriage paintwork.  It did however show a passenger from the other side, looking away and as such I thought it fitted into the series and offerd more depth.  By placing it first in the series and following it with the images taken on the threshold of the carriage, I hoped it provided a form of travel from outside to inside.

I found Walker Evans book, Many are called, in a trip to the Birmingham Central Library. I’d gone with friends before Christmas to the market as a possible other idea and on browsing the photography reference section found the book.  In the introduction James Agee wrote:   Those who use the New York subways are several millions…They are members of every race and nation of the earth. They are of all ages, of all temperaments, of all classes, of almost every imaginable occupation. Each is incorporate in such an intense and various concentration of human beings as the world has never known before. Each, also, is an individual existence, as matchless as a thumbprint or a snowflake. Each wears garments which of themselves are exquisitely subtle uniforms and badges of their being. Each carries in the postures of his body, in his hands, in his face, in the eyes, the signatures of a time and a place in the world upon a creature for whom the name immortal soul is one mild and vulgar metaphor.

I rather liked that as it was better than I could have written but described my experience of the London Underground travellers I met perfectly.

The brief I set asked the question, can you still capture those unguarded moments as journeys are made?  Using lessons learnt from other photographers and following their idea and techniques, then I believe I have achieved this.

 

 

Bibliography/References

ASX ARCHIVE: Walker Evans – “Subway Photographs” (1938-1941) . [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.445101852628.231536.115651122628. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Ethics of Consent in Candid Fine Art Photography | Keen Graphics Blog. 2014. Ethics of Consent in Candid Fine Art Photography | Keen Graphics Blog. [ONLINE] Available at: http://keengraphics.net/keenblog/2014/01/02/the-stolen-image-ethics-of-consent-in-candid-fine-art-photography/. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Flickr Search: london underground. 2014. Flickr Search: london underground. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=london%20underground. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Luc Delahaye – Six pictures from “L’Autre” series [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/sullivan/Images/sullivan4-10-11.jpg. [Accessed 12 February 2014].

Portrait of the week: Walker Evans’s Subway Portrait | Culture | The Guardian . 2014. Portrait of the week: Walker Evans’s Subway Portrait | Culture | The Guardian . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/sep/14/art. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Rugfoot mobile (Richard Gray website). 2014. rugfoot mobile. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.rugfoot-mobile.com/. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Subway – Bruce Davidson 1980 . [ONLINE] Available at: http://mediastore3.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR2/1/3/7/a/NYC5982.jpg. [Accessed 10 February 2014].

TED GRANT PHOTOGRAPHER. 2014. TED GRANT PHOTOGRAPHER. [ONLINE] Available at: http://tedgrantphoto.com/index.html. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Terry O’Neill Photography Awards 2013 : The Winners . 2014. Terry O’Neill Photography Awards 2013 : The Winners . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.oneillaward.com/. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Walker Evans Subway Photographs | Untapped Cities. 2014. Walker Evans Subway Photographs | Untapped Cities. [ONLINE] Available at: http://untappedcities.com/2012/11/20/photography-walker-evans-subway-portraits/. [Accessed 23 February 2014].

Geoff Dyer, 2007. The Ongoing Moment. Reprint Edition.

Walker Evans, 2004. Many Are Called.  Yale University Press.