Every L Stop (First Car, Last Car on a Saturday)
Every L Stop (First Car/Last Car on a Saturday) is an installation of two large-scale prints, each a result of using image-averaging software on a photograph taken at every stop along the New York City Subway’s L line. Each print is taken from two different perspectives of people about a foot apart — one from an individual around 6’2” and one from someone who is 5’2”.
I've been taking photos like the one on the right for years.
I've taken them in almost every city I've ridden a subway in. I'm not sure I'm able to describe what it is about this photo I'm so drawn to but there is something about both the bisection of the space that frames everything so neatly. I've both found them deeply interesting to myself but was never sure on how to express this feeling to others — the feeling of both being in a neatly defined space that is so full of humans and everything they contain.
I don't even love taking the subway very much — in the moment the experience is always at the very least slightly offensive. But, there is something very true and sublime about being in the actual subway and looking at this view, a narrowly contained collection of people who are briefly connected.
In my time at the School for Poetic Computation researching various computer-aided imaging techniques, we came across artists like Jason Salavon, Nancy Burson and Claire Hentschker who used image averaging techniques to draw attention to central points of focus in order to highlight or provide new forms of commentary on the gestalt of an image or representation.
I was talking to another student about this and showed her the photo and she immediately exclaimed — "That's what you see?! That's definitely not what I see!" I was struck by that, and started thinking about how much of our world is based on the body. Race and gender are often the first thing that comes to mind when considering the differences in physical forms, but I started thinking about height and other forms of bodily experience that change not just what we see but how the world reacts to us.
I've been obsessed with the body for decades for a variety of reasons and often feel completely disassociated from it; the reaction of other people to my body is often baffling to me. Someone I knew once accused me of using my height "obnoxiously" in a conversation in order to prove a point, but I often feel like I am the exact same size as the person I am talking with. Clearly, that is very much not their reaction. At the same time, I shrink into spaces, hunch, and find myself wanting to be small, to be unseen, to exist without a body or without being seen.
I got interested in the experience of what the body sees and not just what it sees but what it is capable of seeing or experiencing without associating it with too much meaning. I thought image averaging the subway images of every L Stop — my daily commute — would be interesting but I also thought it would be interesting to contrast that with someone a foot shorter than me. I was curious about the gestalt of the experience and if I could represent that and make someone think about their own experience as well as the experience of other passengers on the subway and how different such a mundane and probably unconsidered parts of their lives was experienced by other passengers.
I also found myself taking the last car on every commute; for some reason I was surprised when the train went back and the last car became the first car. I liked the sort of looping nature of being in both the first car and the last car an in a sense being at opposite ends of the line at the same time when I averaged out all the images.
There was also a sensation of fear I had when doing this project that crept in. I became aware of my body - it's size and shape and color — as I took photos on a subway that always asks people: "If you see something, say something." What were they seeing when they saw my body standing in one spot over hours, unmoving, taking the same photo? I'd be curious to see if I could make people feel that as well.