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.
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:
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.