Being in NYC last week and taking the subway to most places, this book, Many Are Called by Walker Evans, kept coming back to mind.
The best way to get around Manhattan, and the thickest concentration of the heartbeat of the city, the subway has a unique dynamic.
Everyone creates their own space and forms an almost invisible, cone of silence around them. It protects and shields them from the rest of the crowd as they wait for the screeching wheels to deliver them to the next stop.
Mainly furtive glances at others or deep concentration on the written word, which is only broken by the occasional performer or zealot, sharing their skills, asking for a donation.
This trip brought a new one for me: not a musical performance but a man claiming to have knowledge of Al Queda operations, who was then put in jail, and now released to continue his self proclaimed mission of information. A small donation was all he asked for. Speaking pretty loud, he was approaching everyone as we pretended that he was invisible, avoiding his intense gaze.
The next stop just about emptied the subway car. Actually an unusual reaction since folks asking for donations is pretty standard.
I only share this to illustrate a bit of the dense, diverse humanity that exists on the NYC subway today.
And in the 30′and 40′s, Walker Evans spent 3 years chronicling the riders. The resulting exhibit and book were called “Many Are Called” with an introduction by James Agee, a writer who seemed to collaborate with many photographers of the time.
I have to believe the the images made today would be eerily similar.
His photographs were made surreptitiously with hidden cameras. Just about the only way to do it.
There is an unspoken privacy on the cars. Your limited physical space and your visual space is respected by the other passengers because they also live in the same world of underground travelers.
This book speaks to a different time but the humanity appears to be the same.
We would like to give this classic book to one of you and hear what your thoughts are on the photographing of individuals in this mass transit life studio. One thing to remember is to turn off the shutter release sound. Trust me, I know.
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