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Saturday, 26 May 2012


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Haunting is right. Viewing them on John's site was a comfortable contemplation on the theme of "sad or tired people looking to the left" until that one man who was caught looking directly at the photographer... and that brought the whole series onto me like a ton of bricks!

If that was the intention, then pacing and ordering a series of images is an art unto itself.

This is wonderful work. The images have a haunting maybe spiritual quality about them. Truly remarkable images.

It occurs to me that technical perfection is highly over rated sometimes. These images are under exposed, noisy or grainy as hell, the colors are muddy. But they are utterly beautiful, evocative, and capture a liminal state of being human. Wow. You've got such a good eye for photographic excellence, Mike. Thank you for sharing what you find.

Obligatory Holga snark withheld because sometimes crappy equipment or conditions yields beautiful art.

Don't forget to read the info on the left of the page. Do it before you look at the pictures.

And this is why I'm delighted that the ISO wars are alive and well. This strikes me as a new age style of photography that would have been impossible, or at the very least extremely difficult, during the film era. Fabulous photos by the way.

Another perfect example of how great work can be done without regard to megapixels, camera brand or model, sharpness, etc etc. These could have been taken with a medium format Leica or a micro 4/3 or an L lens or kit lens. It's the idea and the execution that is stellar.

Oh my! I'm always delighted to see an original project that's a completely new idea to me and to see such striking results from it. And then I'm depressed by the creeping sense of boredom with my own shooting-style and the feeling that I'm stuck in a rut and I've got no good ideas. And then I snap out of it realize that there's tons of new things to try. I'm going to look for something completely different to shoot this weekend. Thanks, Mike. And thanks, John!

Beautiful, sad, unsettling

I found the portraits far more interesting than I had expected when I looked through them yesterday. I'm not actually completely sold on his interpretation of the expressions (I think we rarely see people photographed at rest and in private, and just aren't used to people's resting faces), but that's a secondary issue.

So, it's a weird technical stunt / gimmick, pretty much requires digital technology (ISO 12000 being thin on the ground in the film era; plus I imagine he shot quite a few more than are displayed here, making film cost an issue), doesn't sound all that promising -- and produced photos that I *do* find very interesting. Congratulations, John!

Transit time is interesting to think about, especially within the bland "nowhere" environments of mass transportation that defy engagement. We often tend to occupy ourselves mentally with where we're going or have been (who we are or will become) while our bodies travel, or lightly skim the landscape beyond, or just zone out somehow.

These are fascinating examples of cameras being able to show us aspects of life we don't normally notice or can even see.

The pic you posted wasn't my favourite in the set. But the work is wonderful. Definitely a thumbs-up!

I would specify my preferred pic, but there doesn't seem to be a way to generate a point of reference on that portfolio website. This isn't how the web is supposed to be, damnit!

The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.

Well done, John Slaytor.

For those obsessed with high ISO, it's worth noting that the digital noise takes nothing away from the power of these images.

When I first read John's comment yesterday, I skeptically thought, "Oh right. Those'll be good." Then I clicked the link, and was surprised to find that they are good.

Interesting series, nice that he didn't succumb to the urge to adjust anything in Photoshop. I love the wonder about what they were thinkings all alone in the dark.

These are lovely. The most interesting part of the whole process is that people haven't been able to put on a mask for the photographer. Almost impossible to get in any other way without some kind of concealed camera.

"No, capturing people in-transit is as old as transit."

I think I'll have to disagree with you there. I think John's pictures are a lot better than Walker's, and that technology is indeed the reason--he could presumably take hundreds or thousands of pictures from outside the subway cars as they hurtled past, whereas Evans was limited to photographing whoever he sat across from, until he got up and moved or until they got up and someone else sat down. It might not be different in terms of basic subject matter, but John's pictures are far more beautiful, and I find them far more moving too. Evans's subway pictures feel much more like a willful gimmick to me. Although a few of them are quite beautiful, in general his artistic choices were very limited, and the pictures show it. John could capture true candids, with no intrusion on his subjects if he chose (I presume the one picture of the man looking at him was taken when a train was stopped?), whereas many of Walker's subjects were looking right at him and presumably knew or suspected what he was up to. Like this one:


What Evans got for the most part was people being wary toward a stranger; what John Slayton manages to convey in many of these portraits is a soul alone.

From the first time I saw them decades ago I've never found Evans's subway portraits convincing as a group. They always felt like a failed experiment to me. John, on the other hand, has succeeded in doing what one suspects Evans only wanted to do.

Just my own take, of course, my own guesses.


Well, this is odd. Yes, I can see the merit of the pictures and can see what you're getting at, but I seem to find myself in a minority of one. All the pictures show recognisable faces that look sad, glum, depressed, pained, hopeless - anything but normal.

I would not like to find my image up on a web site when I thought I was contemplating some possibly sad thoughts in relative privacy. Yes, I know, a train is not a private place, but if I knew a photographer was going to photograph me (ie I could see him working the carriage), I would put my normal, cheerful face back on until he moved away. I don't mean smile and say cheese, I just mean buck myself up, lift my head and project what I hope is my normal good demeanour.

I wouldn't have had the nerve to publish these photos and I'm glad my face is not among them.

I've just thought of my current situation: my beloved dog is slowly succumbing to cancer and old age at the moment. Inwardly, I'm dying with her. My eyes fill with tears and if I let it, my face shows my pain. I could easily be showing my feelings in a quiet spot in a train thinking no-one can see me. But I wouldn't want that image to be seen in public.

I dunno. Am I the only one who feels this way?

Truly lovely work and judging by the way they were captured probably the most random of your random excellence choices@

Beautiful pictures, especially the one with the woman with her eyes closed. I read the info statement at the end looking at the photographs first, I placed their location in any of a number of south east Asian cities. I wasn't expecting Sydney.

Today was my third review of this series and my first review of the "info" text. The faces did seem sad to me at first but now they seem more contemplative and tired. While commuting is certainly a key component of the rat race I see these people as more lost in thought. Turning away from the humanity in the car to gaze out at the landscape means there is no immediate possibility of interacting with another human face. I would imagine the expression relaxes as the mind begins to wander. This is really beautiful work. Congratulations, John.

These photos are beautiful and awesome. They hold very much on their own, without any interpretation about freedom or commuting or today's society, conveying just, like Mike said, "a soul alone". Touching.

I wonder about one thing though: What about the right to your own image? If any of these persons would find him- or herself in the exhibition or the net and mind the publication, could they successfully file a lawsuit? The faces in the pictures are so recognizable, so individual, digital noise or not.

"If any of these persons would find him- or herself in the exhibition or the net and mind the publication, could they successfully file a lawsuit?"

No. Cf. Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia.


Sigh. Yet another site that doesn't work on my iPad. My face right now looks like one of Slayton's subjects'.

These are beautiful and revealing images but I am concerned about the ethics of taking and displaying them.
If I walk along the street I do so in the expectation that I can be seen by others and comport my self and my facial expression accordingly.
If I am staring out of a fast moving train window I have the valid expectation that no one is looking at me. If camera technology overcomes this. and I were to subsequently see my photo published. then I would feel, rightly, that I had been spyied upon. I would be angry at this intrusion in much the same way that I would be angry at a Peeping Tom.
The wonderful quality of the images does not mitigate the questionable way they were obtained. It is simply not right to photograph people who believe they are not on public display.

I'm caught between admiring the aesthetic excellence of the images and the feeling that these were in a way a violation of the privacy of these individuals.

As an avid photographer of people I've always done so in environments where people know they are being SEEN by others. Streets, bars, train platforms... They may or may not notice me taking a picture, but they know there are others "there".

For every elegant, thoughtful emotional expression randomly captured there were probably plenty of yawners, nose pickers and people sleeping with their mouths wide open.

What's the difference between this method and shooting through a living room window? In either case, YES, we may know it is POSSIBLE to be seen, but social norms lead us to believe that we are not being watched....yet we may be.

I'm not sure it's the technology itself here that makes this possible, so much as it creates a willingness to go there. You could get underexposed, muddy, and grainy with film at EI 12800, too, if you wanted it, but maybe people would have just said, "Why bother? The negs will just be hard to print." On the other hand, if they did print them and were okay with this kind of image quality, they could have it. I'd say it's more a matter of convenience than possibility.

35mm film isn't so expensive per shot, so I don't regard that as a factor.

The fact that you can look at these all on a screen enlarged, however, and can examine small fragments of the frame without squinting at contact sheets through a loupe and trying to imagine what's really there, and do it on a monitor without the time and expense of printing--those are relevant technological convenience factors that facilitate projects like this.

I like the images and sympathize with the ideas about commuting to work in an office in a big city, but am a little uncomfortable with the method. It's a bit like editing surveillance photographs--more about the editing than the act of photographing or seeing the image in the camera, and the subjects don't have much of an opportunity to interact with the photographer. The guy who seems to be looking at the camera--is he? Or is he just looking out the window as he blows past the camera?

Come on, guys! It may be fun to speculate about the "despair" and "loss of freedom", etc. in these pictures but the truth is you have no clue about what those people are thinking, how they are feeling or anything else. For all we know, these might be just 1/300 of a second in the happiest day of their lives. Give me a break!

There is something that keeps me from completely appreciating these remarkable photos. I find it difficult to understand something that seems to be generally accepted among photographers, especially street photographers, that it is okay to capture some individual's picture (portrait?) without permission, implied or otherwise. I'm sure some will argue that just being out in public is implied permission, but that to me is just rationalization. And then to attempt, unknown to the "model", to make financial profit from it is completely beyond my comprehension. Can someone please explain to me, in ethical terms, why this is okay?

Last time I tried taking pictures in a subway station (Harvard Square MBTA) the authorities intervened and told me to stop.

They have honed their policy since:

Mass transit is de-personalizing, perhaps even dehumanizing. Crushed by the crowd, standing at the yellow line on a station platform as a train rushes by is to be overwhelmed with noise and wind and fear induced by several hundred tons of traction.

To have wrested these contemplative images from such bedlam is wonderful.

"It also makes me consider how selective editing could produce a different set - smiling faces going on holiday, meeting a loved one, chatting with a friend etc."

@Don; that occurred to me too. From a technical point of view, these images are an interesting achievement indeed. But otherwise, they're a set carefully selected to match a theme. The sameness of the portraits, when I know that the variety of expressions I've seen in similar circumstances, kills any interest I had in the series.

This body of work is extraordinary, and it brings to mind the post-WWII New York School of street photography. Not so much what it looks like, but the thinking behind it and the sense of "subconscious" photography as a way of understanding daily life.

I like John’s work a lot; am reminded of the work of Robert Bergman, though I disagree with the”lives of quiet desperation” meme.

Bruce Davidson has a different take: “I wanted to transform the subway from its dark, degrading, and impersonal reality into the images that open up our experience again to the color, sensuality and vitality of the individual souls that ride it each day”.

I’m also a little discomfited by the “need” for contextual didactic material. Evan's and Kubrick's not entirely successful experiments seem able to stand alone as images, while John’s almost need some explanation, some reason for the anomalies in the images. Davidsons work, with it’s tight focus, seems to need explanation also.

And, for something a little different, though in that vein of “anonymous voyeurism of the traveler”, the painter, Edward Hopper. His inspiration was looking out of the train, though.

It's unfortunate that such a beautiful body of work is presented in such a bad web design. Those cheesy "fly-ins" remind me of boring PowerPoint presentations put together by accountants (plus it's pretty much unusable on an iPad).

One could make the argument that choosing how to present your images on the web is as important as choosing how to frame your prints. A nice print framed badly is a small tragedy. So is a nice portfolio on a bad web site. :-/

A side note to Don regarding the "detracting" statement. I don't think one has to look very far to find many social and artistic reactions to the kind of "loss of freedom" that John Slaytor is talking about. It's not the kind of absolute loss you'd experience if you were thrown in jail (although arguably that would bring a kind of existential freedom as you are no longer required to work in order to be fed and sheltered).

The "rat race" can most definitely be oppressive, and many people have a lot less freedom to choose than you might think. I've been a victim of that rat race, and it can crush your will to live. I live modestly, don't over-spend, am not mortgaged to the eyeballs, etc., so it's not like it's "my own fault." But I must work, and there have been times when my choices have been very limited.

Driving two or three hours a day through congested traffic, or riding two or three hours a day on crowded subways and commuter trains can really grind you down, especially if the job you finally get to is not one you enjoy but is the only one available for the time being.

No, it's not like living in a concentration camp or in North Korea, which is why Slaytor qualifies is statement by referring to the loss of "existential freedom." But make no mistake; millions of people in the so-called "free world" are miserable and feel trapped in their circumstances.

(Sorry for the off-topic...)

"If I am staring out of a fast moving train window I have the valid expectation that no one is looking at me. If camera technology overcomes this. and I were to subsequently see my photo published. then I would feel, rightly, that I had been spyied upon. I would be angry at this intrusion in much the same way that I would be angry at a Peeping Tom."

You'd have to check the laws where you live for specifics, but I don't believe you'd have a case at all. The rough standards are whether the photographer is standing on public or private property (OK and not OK, respectively), and whether the subjects have "an expectation of privacy," which is what keeps people from, say, photographing through the windows of other peoples' bedrooms--people definitely have an expectation of privacy even in a hotel bedroom and even if the photographer is on public property. IANAL, but I think you'd have a very hard time making the case that someone on a subway car has any sort of expectation of privacy. Even if they do feel they're "alone with their thoughts."

There's nothing wrong with what John did from any legal or ethical standpoint as far as I can see, at least under what I know of U.S. law. Some place like France might be different, I don't know.


"YES, we may know it is POSSIBLE to be seen, but social norms lead us to believe that we are not being watched....yet we may be."

Ya think? Aren't there more surveillance cameras than cats in Great Britain now? Something like that.

Hate to say it, but you're on camera ALL THE TIME, almost no matter where you go. There are surveillance cameras EVERYWHERE. Far more than you recognize, and in many more places. Heck, it's quite possible those very people were also being photographed on surveillance cameras inside the subway cars they were riding on.


What a wonderful series. Hats off to John, both for the idea (shooting from outside the car) and the execution. I agree they have a different take than Walker Evans or Stanley Kubrick's series, and are certainly more connected to the current time. I was commenting on Friday how dispiriting mass transit is.

A couple of slightly diverse thoughts:

- Very obviously selection can make a very different story from these images and it is interesting to read John's comment that he didn't photograph anyone smiling or chatting. Smiling isn't perhaps the whole story, but certainly the selection picked do not appear to be 'happy'. I connected this with the comment from a serious article on the use of social media that observed that 'dissatisfaction with our marriages has become a chronic norm in modern western culture - perhaps reflecting a deeper malaise?

- This series makes the first really strong case I've seen in actual work (that I find interesting!) for technological development. It's nice to get past the whizzy high iso for its own sake stuff and find it used creatively.

Thanks very much for sharing this.


Hmm. Thought provoking. I don't object to the artist statement, I just think it works better left unsaid.

I still prefer (in life) a more positive approach, and believe that most of us have more ability to change our circumstances than we admit. We have not universally lost our freeom, but are resigned to the choices we have made.

The alternative approaches despair. We see ourselves in those portraits.

As a body of work it does what art should do - it captures an aspect of the human condition and makes you think about it. The sea creatures on John's website work for me too.

Some really stunning photos there. Kudos to John for thinking outside of the film plane. And thanks to Mike for sharing.

The thing that unsettles me a bit though is the narrative applied to these strangers. Anyone that's shot candids knows that even in the happiest occasions you capture an out-of-place expression that some may interpret as ominous and foreboding but in reality is just a pause between smiles.

As I look at these great photos I wonder if some are just between smiles. We can never know of course because we'll likely never see these people again and know them only from this one fleeting image. At the end of the day, how we interpret them says more about the viewer (and the photographer) than the subjects themselves.

In my view the magic of the images is that they capture a true state of mind.

In that, the sitter is unaware (the train rider) and the image maker is incapable of visualizing the capture of the moment; the resulting images are a true surprise.

In the Walker Evans, and other photographers mentioned, the sitter is aware or weary of a lurker in proximity; not to mention the image maker is choosing the decisive moment.

Ideas obviously rule. We should also be aware the new tools we have now allow us to capture subtle emotions we cannot see or influence, other than aiming the camera in the direction of something that interests us.

Note: In the 60s I rented a Panavision high speed camera shooting 256 fps. Editing frame by frame revealed images that were not only a great surprise in that the images gave insight into emotions that human perception cannot see or capture with decision control by the photographer.

It was expensive and the single frames were of poor quality. It worked for commercials.

this is what people look like in their cars as well (when they aren't on phones, eating lunch or doing their make up) from the viewpoint of a cyclist. They are in mourning. I don't see other cyclists with these expressions though and usually get a wave/smile/hello.

Great series of images. However, ike Don, I would have preferred them without the heavy sub text. Just the context would have been enough and would allow the viewer a certain flexibility of interpretations. That's just me though - I appreciate that John had a particular point to get across - but I prefer photography that remains slightly elusive.

My two cents about the "rat race" from a few years ago:http://roberts-rants.blogspot.ca/2006/01/middle-ages-redux.html


Regarding the surveillance cameras, while I am certainly no fan of that trend, I see several differences in that case. Often there is a notice posted saying that they are in use. The cameras are not targeting me as an individual. And most important in my view, absent any criminal activity they will not be published for all to see, and certainly not for profit.

John Camp may be thinking of the photo by David Plowden, "Great Northern Railroad freight train west of Havre, Montana". It's plate 1 in his book "The Hand of Man on America", and is on the web at http://www.railroadheritage.org/index.php?P=FullRecord&ResourceId=2110

Victor Bloomfield


Evans' subway photos are one of my favorite bodies of street work; however, I don't think the relative merits of Evans' and Slaytor's photos is something that has an objective answer, and I don't intend to argue it. I'd certainly like to own a book of Slaytor's work, though.

I do want to address one thing: you say, "many of Walker's subjects were looking right at him and presumably knew or suspected what he was up to." I don't agree. Based on more than forty years of riding the New York subways, I think that while many of Evans' subjects had their eyes turned in his direction, his existence (let alone what he was doing) did not consciously register on most of them. People on the NY subway's look wary pretty much all the time, and if they're not reading or playing video games, they're most likely staring straight across the subway car.

I had wondered why the subjects of Slaytor's series looked so much less tense than what I'm used to seeing on trains; most of them seem more tired than anything else. On looking more closely at what he's said about them, it seems that these people are riding commuter rail, not a NY-type subway. That's a less fraught experience; one could get images like his on the Long Island Railroad.

I agree with Mike and disagree with Ken about whether these pictures fit in the same category with the subway pictures of the '30s to '80s (Bruce Davidson's work most strongly for me -- they go back to his Coney Island gang photos). They are something that only digital could extract. Maybe film in the '80s reached ISO 3200 and might stretch to 12,000, but a shutter speed of 1/3000, needed to get a clear image from a train window cruising by perpendicular to the shot at a distance of a few feet, is faster than anything I can recall seeing on film Nikons, Leicas or the "easy to give up to a mugger" Canonets of that era. And the photography was automatic. At that distance, Slator says he couldn't see the subject coming, but found his 19 pictures when they jumped out of about 4000 frames. Again, only in digital could you work that way. Perhaps it is Slator's pushing the yellowed, flourescent-lit images into a Saul Leiter-like old Kodachrome color scheme that makes us think of the '50s


After looking three times at this interesting collection of photographs I have to protest strongly over the meaning that has been imposed on them and the subjects by both the photographer and in several comments.

John said in his artist's statement (quoted in his blog) that he was inspired in part by "Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s sobering film about the Holocaust in which he documented how trains were used to transport Jews throughout Europe to concentration camps." He then likens daily employment to a German concentration camp and set out on Sydney train platforms to show “the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing”. John concludes that “These portraits...show the universality of our society’s resignation to its loss of freedom...that despair is not confined to a few individuals but is endemic...”

John set out to make a point, to illustrate the inner despair of employed people travelling to or from work by train. As evidence, he offers 17 highly selected photos of people looking out a window or sleeping. But are they really in despair, either consciously or subconsciously?

His assertion is simply unwarranted. The people are variously in thought, sleeping or observing. None of us are mind-readers.

Happy or satisfied people do not go around all day wearing a grin.

In science it would be said that anyone who set out to do this would be said to be dishonest or, at least, manufacturing the evidence.

There may well be some level of resigned despair in many regular train travellers. But these photos are not evidence of it.

Please evaluate evidence before jumping to agree with assertions. Truth is important.

Well, damn. This is just simply an incredibly well thought out and well executed body of work. Color me jealous, in the sense of slap-myself-on-the-forehead "Why didn't I think of that?"

John, here is a technical question. As a US citizen, the idea of hanging out on a train platform and taking thousands of pictures brings one thought to mind: Were you hassled by the authorities? Here in the US, if I were to attempt such a project, I would just expect to spend some time in an office somewhere patiently explaining to a policeman that I was actually not a threat to civilization.

In regard to what the subjects are thinking: the discussions above are indications that these photos are sublime pieces of art. The mark of sublimity is simply when the artistic object engages the viewer on an emotional level and in effect pours the subject into a blender with the emotional state of both the author and the viewer of the work and creates a unique response for the viewer.

Really, really good stuff. Congratulations

Great work! It is indeed a very "emotional series of portraits", as you write. In these days where tons of photos are posted on the Web, I usually do not look long to each ones. Slaytor's photos made me stop and look. And look again. Photos that provoke emotions AND thinking are rare.

Reminds me also Tuğba Yüksel: http://www.tugbayuksel.com/


For seven years I was employed to help people plan journeys using public transport.
I'd sometimes get calls from very distressed callers wondering why their bus was 45 minutes late
or their last train home had failed to show up. Other times the news that it would be at least three buses to get to a potential work place, from where they lived, would almost always meet with a sigh. I would ask them to consider seriously if they would be willing to put themselves through that every day, before they took the Job.

On occasions I'd get some abuse from the understandably frustrated people that had been left stranded.
There was many a time where I would go for my bus home only to see it going sailing past me, leaving me stranded, or I'd go for the train only for it not to show, meaning I'd missed both the train and the bus. I would ponder on an abusive call and think, Buddy... if you could see me now. If you think people look sad going to and from work on public transport you should see and hear them when they're let down by it.

Commuters left stranded, would be a a good follow up to Johns series.
I know Amy Stein has done it with people who's cars have broken down
but you are a passenger in more ways than one on public transport
you're not in control of the wheel and you have to resign yourself to it,
it's a great metaphor.

I'm unemployed at the moment and seeing my wife go off to work with a sigh is sometimes painful. Mainly because we love being together so much, but there's guilt that she has to do it to keep the roof over our head. Sometimes I wonder whether it's even natural to drag your arse out of bed to go to some place you don't want to be. I've already had a text message today saying she
misses me

She left home for work in her car

Great project, John.


Australian artist John Brack painted 'Collins St 5pm' in 1955.


It is well known and popular locally. Having seen the work a few years ago, I wondered how to portray similar sentiments through the more constrained artistic tool of photography.
It may be that John Slaytor has gone some way towards doing that, in a serial format.

Also, pushing the new boundaries of digital photography in the process is to be applauded.

A note to Rod S. who said "His assertion is simply unwarranted. The people are variously in thought, sleeping or observing. None of us are mind-readers. ... Please evaluate evidence before jumping to agree with assertions."

Please keep in mind that this is an artistic project, not strictly a work of pure documentation. The important factor is not the individuals and what they might or might not be thinking or feeling. As a work of artistic interpretation, what matters is what the artist was thinking and how he used his medium to create images that evoke the kinds of feelings he's shooting for.

He's using real people, so there is a kind of unaware collaboration on the part of the subjects, and for that reason the ice is a bit thin for this kind of skating. In other words, I too feel the artist's statement might be a bit too pointed given we can't know what's really in the heads of these people. Personally, I would have preferred the same ideas and sentiments be alluded to rather than boldly stated, and ultimately the work should do the talking with the artist's statement being just a small pointer, or guide.

But the fact remains that these images are more akin to poetry than to journalism, and should be viewed and considered that way.

a great set of photos. Looks like purgatory.

Some readers have suggested my images invade the privacy of hapless commuters.

I suggest they read the first chapter of The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer which begins with an analysis of Paul Strand's 1916 image, Blind Woman, and Strand's dilemma "How do you make your subject blind to your presence?"

In my view, the relationship between a photographer and a stranger can only be superficial unless the stranger is a celebrity/model in which case they have learnt to mimic a more meaningful relationship. As a photographer I want to remind people of how beautiful everyday life is and I cannot do this with professional models.

Legally, I was entitled to take the photos. Morally? I had no issues since I didn't set out to mock any individual and where there was a possibility that an image might be misconstrued, I left it out of the exhibition series (and also from the Salon des refusés series).

To the comments that my artist's statement was superfluous or distracting, in the exhibition, none of the images had titles because I didn't want to impose my interpretation on the viewer's experience. I did, however, want to explain my thought process which culminated in the works if only to draw attention to Shoah. I was concerned about the appropriateness of comparing everyday commuters with transports so I checked my statement with Professor Sue Vice, the UK's leading expert on Holocaust Literature. I also designed my website so that reading the artist's statement is an option; I didn't want any superfluous text to distract the viewer from appreciating my work which included not watermarking the images.

To the suggestion that I am profiting from the misery of other's, I am selling each print in a limited edition of 5 for $2500. If each print sells out, based on the time that I have spent on this project, I will have earnt $60 per hour.

To Clay's question about being hassled by security, I wasn't though I fully expected to be since my presence was so predictable - every weekday, from 7.20am to 8.45am. Incidentally, I only photographed in winter (albeit a very mild one in comparison to the Midwest) because because Australian light is very intense and the train window reflections would have been impossible had the sun been any higher in the sky.

A note back to Ed Hawco: Thanks for your response and explanation, Ed. I admit a bias. I do see photography as primarily documentary in nature. I’m not really interested in fantastical ideas.

I could reply to your explanation: "Aahh, the old 'artistic licence' argument", but that would seem dismissive and unkind, when I'm really interested in the reaction that this series of photographs has generated.

I am most intrigued by the widespread acceptance of John's premise that humans are universally in despair, and that these photographs demonstrate it.

John's premise is interesting. However, more importantly, it is either true or untrue. Is it true? How do we know? Are we not accepting these photographs as evidence? Are we projecting?

A few of the later photographs in the series show people looking out of the window in an interested manner. Yet the entire sequence has been interpreted in most comments here as showing the subjects as sad.

I'm pretty amazed. Does this illustrate that, as a society, we are highly suggestible?

As I said, an interesting post.

John, excellent work because it's real. Who knows what's going on in the head of each person you've captured. For me, it's a wake up to think about what I may indeed look like as I tackle the start of each day. Generally speaking, we each have a choice to be happy and positive or to be unhappy and down as we live our day. Your work has really made me reflect that my life isn't that bad and that I have no reason to look like any of the people you've captured. Thank you.

As a series, and technical discussion aside, it has worked brilliantly as it has evoked thought and feeling. Very well done.

Beautiful photos. Aesthetically, they remind me of hand colored late 19th/early 20th century portraits. (Steichen maybe?) That said, I agree with many others and feel that the artists statement detracts a bit from the work. I don't really agree with the point about "loss of freedom" and would have preferred to look at the work without that overlay.

To Peter Glav's comment. Last December I flew to Osaka and then caught the train to Kyoto. During the journey the ticket inspector came through into my carriage. As she entered, she stopped, bowed and spoke (in Japanese).
I could not understand what she said but her impact was profound because she was so joyful. She came across as if this was the best day of her life and she wanted to share that news with the carriage.


In Sydney my experience with train ticket inspectors is very different. In this post 9/11 world they have aggressive authority. Their uniforms are not well maintained and they hunt in packs. Sometime before they've done a two day course on customer relations but they don't believe what they were taught.

David Foster Wallace's speech explains the difference between the Japanese ticket inspector and those in Sydney beautifully.


Can someone tell me what the law says about the use of such photographs of people in public spaces? Can these photos be sold commercially without a model release? If not, how does one manage getting model releases in such circumstances? Sorry, I'm always confused by this. What's required for publication & sale?

"Can these photos be sold commercially without a model release?"

In the U.S., not for advertising. For artistic, editorial, or personal use, it's fine, except that in the case of editorial publication you can't substantially misrepresent the individuals if they're recognizable. That is, if you used a picture of a stranger riding the subway to illustrate an article called "Women Increasingly Being Molested on Subways," the person in the picture could sue you.

Note also that selling a photograph as art does NOT constitute "commercial use," no matter how much you sell it for.

"Sorry, I'm always confused by this. What's required for publication & sale?"

You should get at least a short, basic book on the subject. For some recommendations, go here:


And scroll down to the header "Copyright redux" and read from there until the following header.


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