Wednesday, November 11, 2009

People crossing

From series Crossing, San Francisco, August 2007.

Can anything be more painfully mundane than crossing the street? It's not even an event or a moment worth recalling (unless you get hit by a bus). Still I find myself crouched in corners of pavements maniacally snapping picture after picture of people crossing the street. They eyeball me with baffled curiosity - what is he doing? - and I take their picture in mid-step.

I like to photograph my pedestrians right before twilight, when the late afternoon light is harsh. The light blinds their eyes like a spotlight and illuminates their faces like actors on an asphalt stage. I like the split second between waiting and crossing, right after the green light signals them to move. Inertia and action. At rest, their faces look to the sun; the signal turns green, and they all bow to watch their step.

Sometimes I squeeze myself into a passing crowd to take pictures upclose. I cross the street back and forth with the camera against my chest, and press the shutter blind. Seldom do I foresee the result; usually I get throwaways. But once in a while serendipity smiles and out comes a picture I like, a group portrait of city dwellers in a rush. The subjects' brows are furrowed, their hands are clutched securely around their purses. They are harried, annoyed, their hair swept up by speed. They look real.

Back at the curb, a solitary man waits for the light to change. Another person joins him, then another, then yet another. Soon there is a row of people on the curb, a chorus line, a group shot. Stitched together in a series, a pedestrian Christmas tree. Photographs take the ordinariness out of the mundane for a very simple reason: people are interesting.

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