WSN’s Photo Editor’s five-hour journey on the 6 train,
photographing strangers both aware and unaware of her lens.
Words and Photos by Alina Patrick, Photo Editor
I filled five rolls of medium format film with portraits of strangers on the subway. On Wednesday, Jan. 30, I spent five hours on the subway, but only shot five images within the first hour. I was convinced I would not be able to fill all the rolls, 60 photos total. However, I soon shed my discomfort and shyness and started to ask people if I could take their picture — something easier said than done, particularly in the subway, where people just want to get from one place to another and be left alone. I asked dozens of people for their portrait and only a handful said “yes.” I took the majority without asking, which is legal in public places but nonetheless led to numerous awkward interactions with angry subway riders. The images I captured were honest and authentic because they were images of unposed strangers. This is the advantage and the magic of documentary photography — it is real.
When choosing subjects, I looked for a gaze or anyone with a particularly pensive expression. I photographed people of all ages, genders and races. The most successful images were from the few people who came up to me and started a conversation. I shot on a Mamiya C330 film camera, which looks as if the scenes were right out of a 1950s movie. One older man saw the camera and began talking with me about it. After we spoke, I asked if I could take his portrait. He agreed, and his eye contact and gentle expression, I believe, makes his the most significant image in the series.
As a photographer, I consistently pay attention to details in everyday situations. But photographing the subway forced me to look for these details in a setting where I usually focus myself inward and do not look up to appreciate the world around me.
Email Alina Patrick at [email protected].