The beauty, emotion and surprise a photograph can convey has always inspired me: The complexity of light, shadow, composition and movement captured in a moment.
I work toward these ends in my photography. It doesn’t always happen. I have taken many mediocre shots. But every shot matters, good or bad, because if it comes from the heart it drives me toward more meaningful work.
I have always been drawn to the lives and movements of the street. The human dramas, the connections and interactions we share in every day life, the vastly different ranges of how we live, work and play. The heartbeat of a city is seen in the pace of life on its streets, moving and changing constantly 24/7 with varying degrees of energy and speed, even stillness. I also seek out the juxtaposition of human presence or isolation in the many architectural spaces, large and small, we have created to live in.
I was working as a professional photographer in the United States when I was hired to shoot architectural highlights and oddities in Paris, a city I have always loved. When I finally moved here in 2016 to continue my work, I became even more fascinated with how the streets and people moved and flowed. I explored the city’s complexity, how vibrancy moved around underground and through ancient passageways, how a city treats those who work, play and struggle on its streets.
I feel it is important to take risks when the moment or environment calls for it. Capturing the energy of life in Paris requires quick reflexes so camera settings are key; anticipating camera adjustments is essential. The available light is a major concern and atmospheres change quickly, so I must be ready for the unexpected. Using a tri-pod underground is not permitted so I work in manual mode often and shoot with a slow stutter speed to compensate for the low light. I have become skilled at using anything within reach, including my body, to steady my camera, and I also shoot from many angles for new perspectives in a busy landscape. I shoot from a high or low angle depending on illumination and the strong compositional elements. Being aware constantly of one’s changing surroundings is key, so I wait and wait some more to let the moment evolve, its energy, flow, humor, pathos, its exceptionalism.
Life underground is a major part of Paris’s beating heart, its hidden passageways and tunnels the arteries and veins so necessary for connectivity, communication, for the city to function efficiently. This feeling was so powerful when I first walked into the Auber Metro complex. The main pedestrian passageway was blood red, connected with several red tunnels and an escalator.
The city is teeming with magnificent passageways, escalators and constantly trundling people movers that are essential in the Paris Metro because distances between one train to another can be very long indeed. People of every stripe are moving in all directions, place to place, intent on the next step, the next experience, walking or running, waiting and thinking.
In the stations and on the trains, performers with many different talents and skills earn a living, spending most of their days jumping from car to car to cajole a new audience and collect (hopefully) a coin or two. Among the grumps and the bored, it is always nice to see a few faces light up and acknowledge these people struggling to make a living.
Romance, too, thrives underground. Love and intimate moments know no boundaries or limitations.
There is a moment right before a train door closes, it is a few seconds of pause and waiting with anticipation and scramble to jump in the train. I have to be in position, and everything has to be right just before the doors close.
Every Metro stop boasts huge posters for advertising, and I am inspired by their humor, ubiquity and silliness. I will stumble upon a phrase or image and wait for a shot with just the right human juxtaposition, hoping to be at the right place at the right time.
Then there are the animals, of all different sizes and shapes, accompanied by their owners for a free ride. I have seen birds and cats in cages, mostly, and dogs who stroll along comfortably in crowds of people on and off trains without any fear.
The Metro also is a dry, warm haven for the homeless and those with next to nothing. They are a constant, a reminder of the city’s inequalities, the beggar kneeling silently, the homeless man sleeping covered in a corner, splayed out on the floor. They are noticed by all but seen by so few. I always leave the person asking for a coin in a cup something.
Finally, I have become determined to capture the energy of a train moving from stop to stop, trying capture the tracks unrolling in front of the train with reflections of passengers and driver. I position myself in the very front of the car, just behind the driver. I can see his back and what he sees as we move down the track. Standing in front of the slightly reflective glass, I capture the passengers behind me in the same shot. The single image becomes compressed and layered in a dynamic compositional way that conveys the train’s energy and movement. Strong light is crucial for this shot and there are only a few places where the train travels above ground in daylight.