For this assignment I was motivated by the famous work of Walker Evens who took clandestine photographs of passengers on the New York Subway capturing the everyday routine of ordinary people. Evans wanted to capture his subjects unaware as he wrote “when the guard is down the mask is off” and “people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway”. For this exercise I used a Nokia 1020 mobile phone which has a focal length equivalent to 25mm on a 35mm camera to take pictures of people travelling. Most of the pictures were taken on a commuter train in the spring and summer of 2015; there are also some I took in airports. The Nokia phone has a silent shutter, with the flash turned off and focus set to manual there is nothing t indicates to people that you are taking pictures rather than reading email or browsing the Internet.
The 25mm focal length is a little short for taking portrait and in some of the shots below the resulting exaggerated perspective is distracting. One advantage of the very high resolution of the camera on 1020 is that images can be cropped and still have an acceptable resolution. For example in the picture of the man working on his iPad below the exaggerated perspective makes his legs look much larger than they really are. I think the image is much better when cropped to a square format. It could be perhaps improved more using the lens correction tools in Lightroom but I have resisted doing this in this assignment.
When I look at this picture I am unsure whether he suspects I am taking his picture or whether he is just lost in his own thoughts.
The picture below captures the two women deep in conversation, again I have cropped this to a square image because i think it makes the picture much more flattering as again the distortion introduced by the short focal length exaggerates the size of their legs and also their dark clothes do not add anything to the uncropped picture.
I think the square format works well for these pictures it allows cropping out areas of relatively uninteresting content and obvious distortion. In addition it really allows the subject to standout . The standard 16×9 image created by the phone works well when used in landscape images for groups of people but I really do not like many of the un-cropped portrait orientation pictures. The picture below is another strong square crop that did not have anything like the impact in a 16×9 portrait.
Not everyone is friendly on the train there are still people who cocoon themselves in their own world behind newspapers. Although this is not as common as in the past because many people are now reading news on smart phones or tablets rather than traditional newspapers. This picture with its Facebook advert proclaiming “Friends” to me has a certain humour.
Taking pictures in a train there was bright sun in the early morning or towards dusk produced its own challenges with many pictures having very pronounced harsh shadows or isolated patches of very bright light. In some cases careful cropping and post processing to tone down some areas lead to a satisfactory approach like the one below of the rather sulky looking girl.
In other cases the extremes of light just don’t work and in those cases I have tried more extreme post processing like the black and while image of a woman gazing intently at her smart phone below. In this picture I wanted the image to have contrast a vintage look where the extreme vinaigrette largely eliminated distracting details and the low key look made what were extreme shadows across the woman’s face more acceptable. I don’t often process images to this extent but in this case I believe it has made a photograph that looked poor in colour have a significant impact. I quite like the contrast between the up-to-date subject matter and the vintage look of the final image. Certainly, in future I will make more experiments like this when lighting conditions are fairly extreme.
This was a difficult exercise and it took a long time to collect the photographs above while sometimes people are so engrossed in their phone, book or tablet to notice anything else ofte it is a case of quickly grabbing a shot and hoping the framing of the picture is good. In my experience I took a huge number of pictures that were nearly good to get these. Overall this exercise turned into a very interesting project that continued over several months.