Rosalie Nilson

Rosalie Nilson

The Company of Strangers - the Paris Metro

by Rosalie Nilson (Australia)

As an Australian, I was interested in photographing a story that was quintesentially French. Arriving a week before the workshop to allow for jet lag, I started photographing immediately. These images progressed to become my story “The Company of Strangers – the Paris Metro”. I find the interaction of people particularly fascinating, and feel drawn to the concept of this reportage style of photography.

Portfolio from the Photojournalisme workshop with Ed Kashi, June 2013.

Written review by ERIK VROONS,
Editor-at-large for GUP Magazine

A photographer, any photographer, has to work with the given: there is no other world than the physical environment that we define as 'reality'. This world is the same for everyone, but it is not experienced the same by everyone. Instead, we all see it from our own unique and individual perspective.

This is what makes us human. This is the first fact that a photographer has to deal with. Second, and this is what makes the photographer stand out from other people, is the intention to make others – often anonymous strangers – see through your eyes. To express your personal view on the world. And since the anonymous viewer is also human, we can assume that he/she has the minimal ability to potentially understand what you mean.

You are in a place and you wish to record this place through a camera. This makes that you, on beforehand, start to exclude significant elements from that reality: no sound, no movement, a limited frame, perspective. As if you are deaf and have to look through a hole in your hands. The only extra thing that you establish as a photographer at first is that you manage to document. This reality – limited as it is - can be seen in another time and place, it can be reproduced.

So how to overcome these limitations? Well, there is the camera. There are many different cameras and they can all do different things. They have all their own qualities. So this is the first choice to make, after the decision of subject and location: what camera to bring? And then: how to use it?

Every place has its unique characteristics and it is your first task to be guided by your senses to document the atmosphere with your body. For only when you have recorded the place physically can you try to mediate that experience through technical support of the camera. Almost like a cyborg, you have to make that camera function as an extension of your body: a limp that records your subjective experience.

In your case, the metro. People in the metro, commuters. I suggest you have a close look at the works of these photographers that have take up this place and subject :

First there is Walker Evans who in the 1930s photographed people in the New York subway with a hidden camera on his chest. In black and white, all his images have that characteristic angle and since people didn't know he was photographing them, a natural pose. Later, in the 1970s Bruce Davidson went to the subway in New York that at that time was a no-go area. Too dangerous, full of violence. So his pictures also come out raw and dangerous He decided to use idiosyncratic colour film, which make the images less distanced when compared to Evans. Also, he decided to make himself visible as a photographer and that is what you feel as a viewer. You feel uncomfortable and out of place.

In the last decade, Reimier Gerritsen, like Evans, choose a strict positioning, namely, on the platform, with a tripod, only photographing people standing inside the trains at the doors. In colour, like Davidson, but more distant. Somewhat similar, Michael Wolf also limited himself to the platform but instead of New York he went to Japan for it is there where he found the unique overcrowded trains with the people squeezed in like sardines, tuned out and steaming their breath on the windows.

I give you all these examples to make the point that although the subkject (the metro) is the same, they made clear choices on beforehand that make their pictures recognizable theirs. They managed to make the time and place more subjective by photographing it, their documentation is more unique than the mundane experience of the phenomena of being inside the metro.

In your series, the informal aspect is clear – I understand what you want to show – but I do not yet feel how this is different from when I would push the button. Or anyone else.What this comes down to is the development of a very idiosyncratic visual style, a 'signature' that refers more back to you than the place itself. I would like to suggest to you, regardless of the subject, that you make even more defined choices in regards to your aesthetic approach so that it becomes easier for the viewer to feel privileged looking through your eyes for a brief moment.

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