Friday, June 3, 2011

This is not a love song, The Subway Series...Walker Evans, Edin Velez: Subterranean Portraits and Chris Marker: Passengers

I loathe the NYC Subway! This feeling has been building for years. I managed to go two years with out riding it at all, but in this past year, I've ridden it more than ever, but with distaste, unless the person I'm riding with is charming enough to distract me. Obviously, with this aversion for the underground, although a visit is possible, living in the outer boroughs of Manhattan is off limits for me and that's a shame.

Public transportation however, fascinates me. We all use it to get around these big beautiful cities. We enter for an undetermined amount of time creating a kind of citified symphony of genders, ethnicity and temperaments as we make our journeys.

I've taken pictures on the subway for years, but I prefer shooting on the bus, which has it's own ridership, certain set of rules and most importantly the natural lighting is more interesting to me.

Strangers, M50 Bus, NYC

Same Separate, M15 Bus, NYC

Subway photography is popular enough that Flickr has two groups that one can join, NYC Subways and Subways and Underground with over 5000 members each.


Walker Evans' Subway Portraits, from the book Many Are Called, which was first published in 1966 has always been an inspiration to my shooting photos on public transportation. One doesn't know how long the chosen subject will sit for the portrait or become suspicious of a stranger's intentions so the opportunity is fleeting, there is no control of the situation which is part of the thrill. Walker's portraits are unguarded and historical. That he thought to take these photos in the late 30's, early 40's by hiding his Contax camera in his clothing shooting riders as they were unaware; which was then a much more difficult task than it is today, was brilliantly executed and a novel concept. 

Evans wrote “even more than when in lone bedrooms (where there is a mirror), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” The subway series, he also wrote...was “my idea of what a portrait ought to be: anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.”

Many Are Called:  Walker Evans  (Yale University Press, In Association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

"It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." Walker Evans

Two groups of work have captured my attention recently in NYC with regard to Subway Portraits. 

Edin Velez: In The Margins: Subterranean Portraits (Priest)

Edin Velez: In The Margins: Subterranean Portraits (Priest Detail)

The first, Edin Velez, known as a pioneer for his work in video, started showing a few of his Subway Portraits, which are shot in the NYC subways, this past spring. I had the opportunity to meet Edin late last year. When I viewed one of the pieces from his subway series, which he shoots and then manipulates digitally, I was jonesing to see more. It made me question how I perceive photography and it's applications in a digital world. The painterly elegance of his technique, when viewed close up, is absolutely stunning. 

Back in March, Velez started hanging some of the portraits in the NYC subways which he documented in the video below. I can't think of a better place to start
an exhibition of the portraits, but I await more and perhaps a show coming soon?


Second is Chris Marker's Passengers; which I happened upon at Peter Blum Gallery while walking to the 50 American's, Robert Mapplethorpe show on 29th street...

   Chris Marker: Passengers,  Peter Blum Gallery

                                      Chris Marker: Passengers,  Peter Blum Gallery

This show is a case, where Less Is More...more is never more...there are 134 images in this show and even more at the Soho 99 Wooster location, (which I've not seen by the way) 200 total images. STOP! Edit! By my estimation there are 5 or 10 photographs here that are really worthy. BUT you know what sold me? Chris Marker.

Chris Marker, a celebrated French filmmaker, is 90 years old and this is his first series in color. Are you kidding me, 90 colorless years! Ok, he's won me over with that and when asked for a picture of himself, he usually offers a photograph of a cat (jinx) and the subway in these images is the Paris Metro, bonus points, but I've also looked over his black and white images and feel that's where his strength lies.

So, if you find yourself in Chelsea this weekend, stop in and see his work, as this show is ending this weekend, and just to note, there is no subway close by.

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