I waited at my usual train station, taking photos and watched the people around me and wondered what was going to happen to all of us. Covid-19 had reached our country, our state and our city. Cases were springing up everywhere and the decision had been made to shut down our office and everyone was to work from home. A couple of days later all the offices in the city were shutdown. Restrictions and lockdown had begun.
Trains still ran for essential workers who had to carry paperwork at all times, but for most of us it was off limits and would be for another thirty-six weeks.
For the last eight years or so I have been photographing my commute, using windows, doorways and reflections to frame the people and their stories. It started as a way to bring some art creation back into my life. I had learnt photography from my father who taught me how to work a darkroom, film cameras and the joy that comes from capturing an image. I went on to study photography after school and fell completely in love. The years went on and the need for enough money to live, and then life pulled me away from the practice. But once I hit my thirties I realised how much I was missing, and it was time to make it happen once more. So I challenged myself to capture images on the way to and from my work. My obsession with commuters had begun.
Public transport is a heartbeat of a city and a visible microcosm of our society. No matter what socio-economic, political or cultural background you come from it is one of those things that everyone uses, a great equalizer.
Commuting in Melbourne during peak hour has become my meditation time really, it is hard to describe but it is the few hours of the day where I can focus on my art and reflect on my own thoughts and see myself within the people around me. No-one talks on the train, no-one makes eye contact. People dive into their devices and try to avoid others, they just want to get to their destination without incident, “don’t make eye contact with the crazy” is the unspoken rule.
I read the newspaper in between my stops and become furious at the decisions being made, punishment and outrage seems to spin the wheels of our media these days and it saddens me. I look at the people going about their everyday life and wonder if they will ever become aware that their pain, their struggles and sense of isolation is not unique but yet felt by everyone.
It is these scenes that I love to put a spotlight on, to show others what they miss by looking down all day. Street photography is a unique beast, it has varying opinions but really I see it as capturing now, the current history, the current people, places and faces. This year more than ever I have come to realise how important it is that someone, somewhere is taking images of the mundane. We lose a giant reflective mirror on ourselves if we don’t take the time to focus on what’s around us.
I purposely choose to use a mobile phone rather than a heavy bulky DSLR for my commuting images. I like the challenge of the technology; it reminds me of using a thirty-year-old film camera where you never know what you are going to get. Mobile phone cameras have a level of unknown, for example – how far can you push it? Can you find the edges of the extreme and still produce a good image? You don’t have to be technically minded to use one either and that accessibility in particular I love. It removes one of the biggest barriers which can scare people off the art – which is “How do I use this thing?”
Accessibility has not helped make the industry take mobile photography seriously however. It feels like some days people think that if too many people know the secrets then we have ruined the entire industry. This is an opinion I completely disagree with. More people taking more photos only generates more ideas, more focus and new identities.
Like all change, it’s slow, competitions now have specific categories for mobile photography, but they are lesser in their reward. It is a reminder that acceptance of quality in particular has some way to go.
The reality is, however, that it doesn’t matter what equipment you use, a great image will always be a great image. You can’t make a technically perfect but poorly captured image brilliant. You either have a great image or you don’t. You can’t force it and you can’t force others to like it. In particular, I wish I could tell my younger self that. Just be and create what you see, ignore the noise, ignore the internal self-judgement. Your own unique view has substance and worth.
So what’s in the future? Hope I think. It will be months still before I can regularly shoot on trains again but it is allowing me time to consider what’s next and to reflect on what I have captured over the years. I am currently trying to put together images which will be turned into a book. I have been published in a couple of different books this year and I have another coming out next year which be amazing. Exhibitions and competitions I have put on the back burner until I am ready to come out of this covid-19 slumber.
There is always work to be done, and images to capture, and although times at the moment make it hard not only to get out physically, but emotionally and mentally to have space for creation that will change. Things always do whether we want them to or not. Life and art are precious and for those that like to create the two are often intertwined.
Stay Safe, Stay Well.