About a year ago I was on the underground and my attention was drawn to the man sitting opposite me. He was totally absorbed in what he was doing on his mobile phone, and seemed completely oblivious to anything around him, including the man who had just entered the carriage and was now sitting directly opposite him. As a photographer and being interested in people I decided to take a portrait of him on my phone.
I didn’t ask permission as it would have fundamentally altered the situation and the moment I wanted to capture. I guess I’d probably have been refused anyway. There are of course those who would argue that I should have asked first, but I believe that street photography and candid portraits are an entirely legitimate form of photography. Unless those images are being used with a view to commercial gain or are associated with a particular political view or a product endorsement, photographing people in public spaces is a valid form of a photographer’s craft, a way of seeing the world and recording a particular slice of life.
That first image, the first one in this little series, led me to repeat the exercise on subsequent journeys and slowly developed in to a kind of personal project almost every time I’m on the tube.
The project is all shot on my iPhone - it’s the perfect camera to provide anonymity and that’s what I soon realised this project is all about. I quickly recognised that what I was doing was trying to explore the sense of anonymity in what is in effect a very intimate setting. Often it’s worth shooting with a gut feeling and then analysing the subconscious thinking behind the image later. Underground trains in London are shared public spaces where people retreat in to their own private spaces, mostly through electronic devices, where people rarely engage or connect with each other, often in very crowded carriages. We travel together for a short part of our journeys and barely notice the people around us, who they are or what they’re doing. That strikes me as quite a nice metaphor for life.
In some instances I’ve clearly been rumbled, but I’ve only once been challenged. I was asked if I knew the person I’d just photographed and when I tried to explain the project I was cut short. I respected the person’s objection and deleted the image.