NICK TURPIN

Photography and Public Transport

Projects, Street Photography, Street Photography Theory

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The most common misunderstanding about Street Photography is to assume that it is about a location, the ‘Street’, when it is really a particular ‘approach’ to picture making in any place that the public gather. It is not surprising then that Street Photographers make great pictures in art galleries and museums, on beaches, in parks, malls, arcades and on trains and buses.

For the last three winters I have taken advantage of the dark evenings to photograph discretely into the top deck of London Buses, the pictures reveal intimate moments of commuters journeys between work and home, a strange lost time that they fill by reading, sleeping, staring, thinking and engaged with their tablets and phones. People in transit tend to adopt a small temporary territory, their seat, their bit of window, their half of the arm rest and they diligently ignore those around them in the hope of being themselves ignored. Words are not spoken, eye contact is not made. You will not see these people again, emotional investment is considered pointless.

 

From 'Through a Glass Darkly'

From ‘Through a Glass Darkly’

From 'Through A Glass Darkly'

From ‘Through A Glass Darkly’

From 'Through a Glass Darkly'

From ‘Through a Glass Darkly’

 

I am obviously not the first photographer to be drawn to making pictures of people in transit and I am not the first to notice the state of public anonymity that passengers acquire.

In 1938 Walker Evans went underground to photograph passengers on the New York City Subway. Interested in capturing the everyday routines of anonymous people, Evans wanted to catch his subjects unaware. “The guard is down and the mask is off” he wrote. While I work with a large modern camera, Evans concealed his camera behind his coat with the lens peeking through a button hole in order to make truly unposed portraits of those sitting opposite him. Evans also apparently invited his friend and photographer Helen Levitt to accompany him hoping her presence would help him be less noticeable.

 

Walker Evans Subway Photograph 1938

Walker Evans Subway Photograph 1938

Walker Evans Subway Photograph 1938

Walker Evans Subway Photograph 1938

Walker Evans Subway Photograph 1938

Walker Evans Subway Photograph 1938

Evans’s Subway pictures made over three years were eventually published in 1966 under the title ‘Many Are Called’.

 

 

Between 1997 and 2000 my in-public colleague Christophe Agou followed in Evans footsteps and set out to photograph on the New York Subway, working with a small Leica Rangefinder he shot at close range without concealing his camera. The pictures  convey the physical intimacy with which he shot his subjects.

“My approach was to observe and not to attract attention, letting my eye intuitively discover the reality under the surface. I did not hide my camera and shot very little. The distance that separated me from my subject was only the length of my arm.”

 

 

From 'Life Below' by Christophe Agou

From ‘Life Below’ by Christophe Agou

From 'Life Below' by Christophe Agou

From ‘Life Below’ by Christophe Agou

From 'Life Below' by Christophe Agou

From ‘Life Below’ by Christophe Agou

From 'Life Below' by Christophe Agou

From ‘Life Below’ by Christophe Agou

From 'Life Below' by Christophe Agou

From ‘Life Below’ by Christophe Agou

From 'Life Below' by Christophe Agou

From ‘Life Below’ by Christophe Agou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christophe named the project ‘Life Below‘ and published it in 2004.

 

 

Between 1994 and 1996 Photographer John Schabel took his Nikon and 500mm lens with 2x converter to several airports and photographed passengers seated in their planes at the gate. His subjects weren’t actually flying, but he says “many of them appeared to have transitioned into their flying mentality, which is really what he was after”

“I felt like they were on their way at that point, they were getting into that [flying] frame of mind”

The pictures are grainy and black and white and remind one of long lens press shots, the passengers are not really recognisable as individuals but there is a sense of an emotional human entity on the inside of the glass.

 

Image from 'Passengers' by John Schabel

Image from ‘Passengers’ by John Schabel

Image from 'Passengers' by John Schabel

Image from ‘Passengers’ by John Schabel

Image from 'Passengers' by John Schabel

Image from ‘Passengers’ by John Schabel

Image from 'Passengers' by John Schabel

Image from ‘Passengers’ by John Schabel

Image from 'Passengers' by John Schabel

Image from ‘Passengers’ by John Schabel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London based Glaswegian, Dougie Wallace, has been attracted to photographing people on public transport for some years. Dougies work includes photographing people in Indian Taxis, European Trams and London Buses. Working with a flash and wide lens Dougie shoots the working class underbelly of city life without mercy or artifice, his subjects are revealed with all their flaws and humanity displayed. The pictures from his recent Omnibus series are shot so close to the subjects that you are hardly aware of the bus environment or the glass separating them from the lens.

From 'Omnibus' by Dougie Wallice

From ‘Omnibus’ by Dougie Wallice

From 'Omnibus' by Dougie Wallice

From ‘Omnibus’ by Dougie Wallice

From 'Omnibus' by Dougie Wallice

From ‘Omnibus’ by Dougie Wallice

From 'Omnibus' by Dougie Wallice

From ‘Omnibus’ by Dougie Wallice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

German born Michael Wolf lives in Hong Kong, his impressive body of work focuses on life in mega cities. He is probably most well known for his long running project Tokyo Compression the first book of which was published in 2010. Wolf photographed passengers on the Tokyo Subway through the windows as they are literally packed into the carriages during the rush hour.

 

Tokyo Compression depicts an urban hell and by hunting down these commuters with his camera, Wolf highlights their complete vulnerability to the city at its most extreme.

 

Wolf has chosen to make his pictures tight, mostly including only the head of the subject in each frame. We often see the actual discomfort of the passenger through the condensation covered glass and on occasions eye contact is made with the lens. Issues of voyeurism and privacy have often been central to Wolfs work especially in subsequent series where he has photographed through the windows of glass Manhattan apartment buildings. You could not say that these pictures were candid observations, more that the subjects whilst aware, had no choice due to their situation and circumstances.

 

 

From 'Tokyo Compression' by Michael Wolf

From ‘Tokyo Compression’ by Michael Wolf

From 'Tokyo Compression' by Michael Wolf

From ‘Tokyo Compression’ by Michael Wolf

From 'Tokyo Compression' by Michael Wolf

From ‘Tokyo Compression’ by Michael Wolf

From 'Tokyo Compression' by Michael Wolf

From ‘Tokyo Compression’ by Michael Wolf

From 'Tokyo Compression' by Michael Wolf

From ‘Tokyo Compression’ by Michael Wolf

From 'Tokyo Compression' by Michael Wolf

From ‘Tokyo Compression’ by Michael Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Wood spent 20 years travelling the streets of Liverpool by bus shooting a portrait of the city from the perspective of a passenger. Apparently shooting 3000 rolls of film the work has been published in two books, All Zones off Peak (1998) and Bus Odyssey (2001). Wood made his pictures from within buses but also from the pavement and the bus stop. Sometimes he shot out through the windows and other times he shot people across the isle. It seems that Wood used the buses and their journeys as a device with which to get close to the working class people of Liverpool, he made those journeys himself, became one of them and was able to make these intimate pictures. In many frames the passengers make eye contact with Wood but they seem relaxed and un offended by his picture making. Interestingly Tom Wood is an example of a photographer who resists having his images on the internet and so these pictures and the project are not well seen.

“When the stuff is too journalistic and documentary then it is journalism, if it is too conceptual and arty then that is another thing, but when the two meet – that is interesting.”

(Towards) Netherton 1989 from Bus Odyssey by Tom Wood

(Towards) Netherton 1989 from Bus Odyssey by Tom Wood

Virginia Road, New Brighton 1984 from All Zones Off Peak by Tom Wood

Virginia Road, New Brighton 1984 from All Zones Off Peak by Tom Wood

Lime St 1995 from Bus Odyssey by Tom Wood

Lime St 1995 from Bus Odyssey by Tom Wood

 

 

Between 1999 and 2003 New York based French Photographer Jean Christian Bourcart photographed those stuck in their vehicles in traffic on Canal Street, Manhattan.

“The people behind the tinted windows of their large sedans look melancholy and resigned. Others, in buses and taxis, appear bored, overwhelmed by the long day. I stand on the sidewalk, examining them with a powerful telephoto lens.I watch them watching me, incredulous, stupefied, like an animal caught in a car’s headlights at night. Some of them don’t move. Others try to turn away, protect themselves with a newspaper or their hand. And then there are those who confront my mechanical gaze -mostly women -, abandoning their image to a fate they cannot control”

These picture convey the dry heat and claustrophobia of Canal Street in the summer, shot tightly on a long lens, there is a foreshortening effect that flattens the images almost to two dimensions. People appear to be photographed in private vehicles as well as buses or coaches all stationary in the city. We all recognise and dread their situation, trapped in their vehicles, trapped in the traffic, trapped in the city.

 

 

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

Image from Traffic 1999-2003 by Jean Christian Bourcart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought I would end this review of transit related photography with something completely different but related. Photographer Ben Graville photographed the arrival and departure of prisoners to the London Court known as The Old Bailey. Holding his camera aloft and using a flash gun to penetrate the glass and illuminate the small holding cells within, each picture relied on a degree of luck to capture the inhabitant sharp and lit.

“Devoid of the public gaze you often hear remand prisoners banging on the window of the van to attract attention, a reaction I received as well photographing. This want to be heard or seen is present in the photos showing how the process of criminal law mystifies and intensifies the situation as the prisoner travels between the remand prison and the Old Bailey”

 

This series of pictures came about as a result of Bens job as a Press Agency photographer specialising in Criminal and Civil Law over four years but they also have their own fascinating aesthetic caused by the wide lens, flash light and tinted glass. Each records a very private and intense moment in the lives of these prisoners, a world that most of us will never see.

 

Image from 'In and Out the Old Bailey' by Ben Graville

Image from ‘In and Out the Old Bailey’ by Ben Graville

Image from 'In and Out the Old Bailey' by Ben Graville

Image from ‘In and Out the Old Bailey’ by Ben Graville

Image from 'In and Out the Old Bailey' by Ben Graville

Image from ‘In and Out the Old Bailey’ by Ben Graville

Image from 'In and Out the Old Bailey' by Ben Graville

Image from ‘In and Out the Old Bailey’ by Ben Graville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whenever one starts a new series as a photographer there is the danger that if you were inspired by your subject, somebody else will inevitably have been inspired by something similar before you. These photographs demonstrate that even if that is the case each individual photographer brings their own unique vision and technical approach that produces a wide diversity of equally fascinating imagery. When I started making my pictures for Through A Glass Darkly I was very much aware of the projects above but I knew my pictures would work in a very different way. Like the American Road Trip there seems to be a tradition of making photographs of people on public transport and it remains a major aspect of most peoples daily life and experience of city living. The important thing for me was to make myself aware of work that might inform my own project so that my contribution to this history and record has it’s own loud and individual voice.

 

Nick Turpin Shooting 'Through a Glass Darkly'

Nick Turpin Shooting ‘Through a Glass Darkly’

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Underneath The Arches

Commercial Work, Commissions, Projects, Property Photography

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This month I have been visiting some of the business’s hidden away beneath London’s Railway Arches. With London property and retail space ever at a premium Transport For London have more and more of these wonderful spaces available beneath their tracks and sent me around the city on my motorbike to record some of their existing tenants.

Fabrique Bakery, Geffrye Street, London in a railway arch

Fabrique Bakery, Geffrye Street, London.

Laura Sevenus Swimming Tuition, Wilson Walk London

Laura Sevenus Swimming Tuition, Wilson Walk London

The Beagle Restaurant, Geffrye Street, London in a railway arch.

The Beagle Restaurant, Geffrye Street, London.

Pro Vision Photo, Hows's Street, London in a railway arch

Pro Vision Photo, Hows’s Street, London.

Turning Earth Ceramics, Whiston Road, London in a railway arch

Turning Earth Ceramics, Whiston Road, London.

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Street Photography Pie

Street Photography, Street Photography Theory

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I take a lot of flack online for attempting to maintain a fairly rigid definition of Street Photography, I know a lot of people, including some very notable ones don’t even like the phrase ‘Street Photography’ but I think that horse has really bolted decades ago. Street Photographers were once men that would take your picture for payment on the sidewalk, that definition changed very quickly when the first role of 35mm film was put in a Leica camera by Oskar Barnack around 1913. It was really the photographers that took up those small portable cameras over the next 60 years that inadvertently redefined the phrase Street Photography to what we recognise today…a documentary form that celebrated the candid public moment. And now wether you like the phrase or not there is unarguably a large and growing international community of photographers for whom it is very important that their approach to making pictures is purely observed, whose intention is to record public life as it is found.

The adoption of photography by artists has spawned the notion in recent years that all that matters is the image and how it plays emotionally on the viewer. For the artists using ‘lens based media’ photography is like painting or sculpture, it’s just another medium. But for photographers and especially Street Photographers, the camera ‘draws with light’, records, documents, captures a scene or happening resulting in an image that has a strong if imperfect relationship with a real event. If you doubt the importance and relevance of the photographers approach over that of the artists, you only need to look at the fascination that photographs hold for us historically, images of conflict and change, first flights, moon landings etc. Even a photograph of your own street from 70 years ago is fascinating, the houses look new, the trees are freshly planted and children play in the road where there are no cars parked. In this photograph of my father John Turpin taken before World War 2 you can see the elaborate metal railings and gates that were later removed and smelted down to provide metal for the war effort….the photograph as document is the cameras most amazing power, it’s what it does best.

 

My father playing in the street in Cricklewood, North London between the wars.

My father playing in the street in Cricklewood, North London between the wars.

 

The problem is that the work of artists working with models and photoshop can often look very similar to the work of real photographers, in many cases that is the artists intention. From Jeff Wall in the 80′s onwards the power of the camera to document has been abandoned by artists in the rush for sensation and novelty in photographic images.

 

Jeff Wall's Mimic 1982 that recreates with actors a scene of of racial abuse Wall witnessed on a Vancouver Street.

Jeff Wall’s Mimic 1982 that recreates with actors a scene of of racial abuse Wall witnessed on a Vancouver Street.

 

Jeff Walls piece Mimic 1982 recreates with actors a scene of racial abuse he apparently witnessed on the streets of Vancouver, imagine if Wall had photographed that original scene and we had both images to hand side by side, which would be the most significant? which would have the most meaning? the document or the creation? The photograph or the artwork?

In my mind both would have value but also they would be incomparable because although initially similar they are completely different beasts from completely different worlds and heritages. One would tell us something about Vancouver in the 80′s, the other would just really tell us about one man and his idea.

The reason I get up again and again to defend candid Street Photography is because I believe IT REALLY MATTERS HOW PHOTOGRAPHS ARE MADE, it matters because it changes their meaning and historical value. There are many good examples to illustrate this but the most famous is probably the controversy over the veracity of Robert Capas photograph ‘Death of a Spanish Loyalist’ from 1936 that purports to show the moment of death of a fighter on a hill near Cordoba in Spain. There is considerable speculation however about wether the photograph was staged. When it was published in Vu Magazine it was certainly presented as genuine. When you look at the image below ask yourself if it matters, if there is a difference between this being a picture of the moment of death of a freedom fighter or a picture of a few soldiers larking about for Capas camera. Does it matter if the dead man got up again…..I think we all know it does.

 

Robert Capa's Death of a Spanish Militiaman 1936

Robert Capa’s Death of a Spanish Militiaman 1936

 

There are few deaths to photograph on the streets of most cities but I would argue that the same ideas of veracity of the image apply which is why I have made my Street Photography Pie Chart. It could not be simpler really, I don’t know why we make such a fuss over defining Street Photography. It’s Photography yes, it’s Documentary Photography yes and it’s Candid Photography…yes. This means that if you interact verbally or physically with the subjects of your photograph then you cross a line, you are not making a candid document and you don’t get to make the last quarter.

 

Street Photography Pie

Street Photography at a glance

 

I love photography but I only really get excited about making and seeing photographs that are evidence of the societies that we live in because they have a relevance that informs me about my own life and my own place in those societies. Every candid Street Photograph I see is a jigsaw piece from a huge puzzle about human nature and social, political and commercial systems, globalisation and consumerism, national identity……life. It’s only a reliable jigsaw piece if it was made in the right way and that is why we need that last quarter of the pie to be defined, it’s why we need the Street Photographers candid approach to be understood and respected.

 

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from 'Like Piccadilly Circus'

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from ‘Like Piccadilly Circus’

 

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from 'Like Piccadilly Circus'

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from ‘Like Piccadilly Circus’

 

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from 'Like Piccadilly Circus'

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from ‘Like Piccadilly Circus’

 

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London Cycle Hire Scheme shoot

Commercial Work, Commissions, Street Fashion

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I am currently working with Transport for London and Swedish stylist Kajsa Soderlund to produce new images to promote the London Cycle Hire Scheme. This first series focuses on tourists and visitors using the cycle hire scheme to access the cities many beautiful spots. Everyone on the shoot cycled from location to location with clothes, props and lighting. Shot on Canons with remote Nikon Speedlights on booms.

Models from BMA

London Cycle Hire Scheme

Models on Hyde Park Corner London.

London Cycle Hire Scheme

Shooting bike to bike down Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London.

London Cycle Hire Scheme

Early morning long lens shot beside the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

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Lurvely Street Fashion

Commercial Work, Commissions, Street Fashion

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Here is a sneak peek of my Street Fashion shoot for Lurve magazine with Neelam from Models 1 styled by Moreno Galata.

If we have ever met you will know that clothes are not a priority in life for me but I do however love making a street corner my studio, I enjoy manipulating a public place and the people I find there. I did this with small strobes for my projects The Bridge and Youth but with this shoot I kept it really simple shooting with my small street shooting cameras, the Leica M9 with a 35mm lens and the 5D with a 40mm.

We shot in the streets, on the tube, in the British Museum and the Natural History Museum without permission, the model slotting herself into situations that I would capture discreetly with a silent Leica click.

Street Fashion shoot for Lurve Magazine.

Neelam lit by Advertising in Piccadilly Circus at night.

Neelam mimicking the public in Covent Garden, London.

Neelam Mimicking the public in Covent Garden, London.

Neelam in the Natural History Museum, London.

Neelam in the Natural History Museum, London.

Neelam joins the queue for a tattoo in Soho.

Neelam joins the queue for a tattoo in Soho.

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Year of the Bus

Commercial Work, Commissions

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This year Transport for London and the London Transport Museum celebrates the ‘Year of the Bus’ – a series of engaging events, exhibitions, recreations and activities that will reconnect Londoners with their bus network and remind the world of the incredible role it plays in this great city.

Transport for London gave me one of their new Buses for London to take out and photograph, it’s a beautiful design by The Heatherwick Studio that also designed the London Olympic Cauldron.

Standing with The New Bus for London on Hampstead Heath, North London.

Standing with The New Bus for London on Hampstead Heath, North London. pic: Thomas Riggs

Abstract of The New Bus for London

Abstract of The New Bus for London

Abstract of The New Bus for London

Abstract of The New Bus for London

A second days shoot saw me tasked with capturing the New Bus with the original Routemaster, the same model that my grandfather drove. I used the camera on a tripod with a spirit level in the hotshoe to level it up so I could pan with the moving buses and get a sense of motion in the shots.

The Old Routemaster Bus following the New Bus for London through Trafalgar Square, London.

The Old Routemaster Bus following the New Bus for London through Trafalgar Square, London.

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V&A posters get Silver at Graphis Posters 2014

Commercial Work, Commissions, Projects

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The posters I shot for London’s V&A Museum through Rose Design gained a Silver in Graphis Posters 2014 and were shortlisted in the Design Week Awards at the end of last year.

V&A Museum Posters at South Kensington Station.

V&A Museum Posters at South Kensington Station.

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A Monumental Commission

Commercial Work, Commissions, Uncategorized

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Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill in the City of London. It was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City. Monument takes the form of a Doric column in the antique tradition containing a cantilevered stone staircase with 311 steps leading to a viewing platform above which is a copper urn from which flames emerge, symbolizing the Great Fire. Monument is 61 metres high which is the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire began…..it is also about 35 meters from the new Monument Place development by Mace for which I was commissioned to photograph on the streets capturing the attractions of the neighbourhood. In addition to my street photography I was asked if I could provide an image of Monument itself for the foyer of the new building. I made two visits to the roof of Monument Place, one to estimate the focal length I would need to fill my camera frame with the wonderful flaming bowl and a second laden with Canon 600mm image stabilised lens and 2x convertor. With the lift not yet working and laden with safety harness, hard hat and solid tripod it was hard working getting everything in place on the roof.

Shooting from the roof of Monument Place with Canon 600mm lens with 2 x converter.

Shooting from the roof of Monument Place with Canon 600mm lens with 2 x converter.

Blessed with a chilly but sunny Autumn morning, the resulting shot had a glorious blue sky setting off the gold of the flames and revealed all the little details of it’s construction. It was just abstract enough to be recognisable but unusual.

The flame image in the foyer of Monument Place, London.

The flame image in the foyer of Monument Place, London.

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From Kensington to Camden with Vivaldi

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There is something beautiful about moving quickly through a busy metropolis, covering miles in minutes gives you a sense of the whole city, you become aware of it’s roads and footpaths, it’s vehicles and people all being part of an integrated organised system. Driving on two wheels through the city is like surfing for me, I’m whooshed along on waves of traffic with moments of red light calm as I wait for the next burst of energy.

This is an 18 minute long film of a journey from Kensington to Camden, feel free to move the playhead along and dip in and out as I pass through the city.

No comments on my driving please.

 

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STREET 2012 by James Nares.

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NYC based artist James Nares film ‘STREET’ is an unscripted 61-minute high definition video filmed over one week in September 2011 from Battery Park to the furthest reaches of Upper Broadway, and West Side to East Side. The film shows ordinary street life dramatically slowed down by the high speed camera which reveals the subtle gestures and nuances of human movement, behaviour and interaction on the streets of a busy metropolis.

I see the film as fitting in half way between the fast pace of reality and the frozen moment of the street photograph, half way between the overwhelming un edited stream of real life and the highly edited most poignant image that we street photographers strive for. Watch the film and then think for a moment how much easier it would be to steal moments in a world that run at half speed.

The film is currently showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC until 27th May 2013.

 

 

Here you can see James talking about the film and his inspiration for it.

 

There is a further short clips from the film here.

With thanks to Richard Bram for drawing my attention to this.

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