On the train

Public Passage

Charlene general, vagabonding 15 Comments

My earliest photographic project, and the only one that’s stuck after all this time, is the one that revolves around public transport. It currently lives on Instagram.

I’ve spent most of my life riding buses and trains, so it seemed natural to shoot on them when I got a camera. I was working in Perth (Western Australia) when I started taking pictures on my daily commute to and from the office.

It started out as something to distract myself from where I was headed, and the dread of what awaited me at journey’s end, and eventually got me re-engaged with where I was. I lived in Perth for a decade and a half, and never got beyond its sunny, social, extroverted face. Shooting the elements that made up the city’s exterior didn’t get me any closer to its heart, but it did allay the vexation of not understanding why I didn’t understand.

I started to appreciate the patterns of life and movement in front of me. I learned to use bus/train windows to frame what was in front of me, and forget everything else.

I get a kick out of familiar scenes rendered odd by removal of context. Whimsical plant sculptures make a forbidding backdrop for a small boy scooting past. A passenger’s head, lanced by bright yellow bars, suggests a sinister end for those who dare go down that road. How fragile is the triangle of love, curiosity and indifference? And who is the woman who defies the tide of movement, to remain defiantly focused at the edge of the frame?

In unfamiliar places, my old method is applied in reverse. Window frames capture a piece of the puzzle, to be connected with others as pieces of a jigsaw are connected to form a bigger picture.

Charlene-Winfred-142671

Night train. Fremantle, Western Australia.

My routes are more varied these days, as are the modes of transport. There are buses, trains, planes, bicycles and so on, depending on where in the world I am. As I no longer have a fixed daily routine, bus/train taking is more leisurely and pleasurable.

Public transport plays a big role in my life. Outside of a practical need, the journey itself offers more than a space to rest and reflect: it affords a view of life on the move, through movement. It is an appropriate lens for someone who is always in transit with no final destination.

After mentioning this project on the interview I did with Fred Frognier, I started digging through my archives to see to see if I still had any of the pictures I made at the start.

This is the earliest one I can find in my archives:

Charlene-Winfred-2

It was taken in 2009. I’d just gotten my first ever f1.4 lens – a battered old Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AiS – from eBay. I’d like to say that it was an observation of the dichotomy of the individual isolated by the crowded urban space that he/she moves through, but what it was, was an exercise in bokeh appreciation on the way home. Also, after heads whipped around at the firecracker slap of the Nikon’s mirror on that first quiet ride, I figured there was no way I could do this for too long before someone would complain and get me thrown off (which I am happy to say, never happened).

I started shooting on my daily commute out of desperation to make pictures, so I would have some small thing in a day to call my own. I never figured it would last this long, but through the years, it remains the one thing that is truly mine.

Perth, Australia.

Perth, Australia.

Comments 15

  1. Thanks for the great photographs. I am glad your Fuji X-Pro has served you well.
    I was reading that you post on Instagram. Would you mind sharing how you transfer your photos from the X-Pro to that format ??
    Again- keep up the great work and I am looking forward to hearing from you.

    Henry
    USA

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      Author

      Hi Henry, thanks for coming by. I transfer my pictures in the “old fashioned” way:

      Because I process my images in Lightroom, I’ll export JPEGs from Lightroom, email them to myself, download them from the email client on my phone, and upload them to Instagram (first running them through the No Crop app).

  2. This is a worthy and interesting project to keep going, all over the world. And your vision for seeing these images is super sharp, I cannot count the times I have sat next to you in a bus or train and wondered what you were pointing your camera at, only to have you show me a great shot, like the top image at CPH airport!

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      Author

      I enjoy the rhythm and melody of public transport though, that probably helps! This is something I do for the pure pleasure of it, because I like the collection of shapes and colours that public transport turns the world into 🙂

  3. Interesting work. I was caught by your comment “firecracker slap of the Nikon’s mirror”; it’s my constant nightmare whenever I’m out in public. Maybe one day I’ll buy an X-Pro 1 to alleviate my fears, but I’ve never used anything but an SLR except for, briefly, a Contax G2 (beautiful, but film – and digital was arriving at the time), and I’m not convinced I’d be comfortable with an optical direct view finder. Meanwhile it’s click-and-run.

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      Author

      That is generally how I do it, Nick! My present camera is quieter than the Nikon was, but it still makes an audible clack when I hit the shutter. I do find however, that people react differently to the small camera – the shutter noise doesn’t cause as much alarm on the littler mirrorless bodies than it used to on the bulky Nikon. It’s the tourist persona I reckon, which is fine by me. Whatever works!

  4. I’ve been coming back several times to look at the first image in this series – moody, expressive and a very good capture. Best of luck with your future work!

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      Author

      Tak Håkan 🙂 That is a favourite of anything I’ve shot recently. It was taken on the train to Malmö, incidentally, where we spent the day.

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      Author

      Hehe. Yes, we were in Malmö doing some filming that day. I’ve only been to Sweden twice so far. That day in Malmö and another very brief visit to Stockholm, where I got to wander around for a couple of hours or so downtown. I’m struck by how beautiful these two cities are. The grace in the spires and window sills of the old buildings, how vivid the colour of architecture is (I compare it to Copenhagen, which to my eye, is coloured with a neutral palette). I’d love to spend more time walking around these cities.

      Oh and Malmö’s central train station: those moving projects on the tunnel walls are wonderful!

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      Author
  5. Stockholm has vivid colours compared to Copenhagen? It’s always weird and fascinating to hear how your home city looks in the eyes of a foreign traveller.

    A couple of years ago there was a huge debate if we should restore the royal palace to its original colour, likely yellow/ochre instead of the exhaust pipe colour it has today, with a century of grime on its walls. Most people preferred the palace to be as it is now, I believe.

    If you make another visit, you and Flemming might like the Trädgården/Under bron and the Slakthuset club areas. Under bron is literally an outdoors club under one of the large concrete motorway bridges.

    1. Well, the only part of Copenhagen I’ve seen, where the buildings are colorful, is Nyhavn. There is color everywhere else, but it’s very subtle, tending more towards neutral than vivid.

      I would absolutely love to spend a few weeks in Stockholm. I thought it was breathtaking, all those spires and bridges and hills and lakes.

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      Author

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