Remember Trainspotting? The original 1996 version, not the nostalgia-ridden backslapping of the recent reunion – 2017.
Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) running up Princes Street, Edinburgh, pursued by security guards. Moving from Princes Street to Calton Road, while a disembodied voice urges : get a life, get a job, get White Lightning, guzzle coke, smoke Marlboro, smoke marijuana, wear dayglow, wear latex, wear cheesy shirts, choose skinny Latte, choose to run fast, choose to eat haggis, choose street photography… ( I paraphrase)
Street photography, of course, didn’t feature in either movie. Couldn’t Danny Boyle have shot Renton crashing into Bruce Gilden (played by Donald Sutherland), or, knocking over Bill Cunningham (James Stewart- alive in 1996) on his bike?
Street photography in the movie Trainspotting would have worked.
Street photographers, of course, have always been keen trainspotters. Between 1945 and 1950 world renowned film director Stanley Kubrick worked as a photographer for the Des Moines, Iowa bi-weekly magazine Look. During his time as a photographer, Kubrick took a series of excellent New York subway photographs for the magazine.
It seems natural, looking back, to expect to find the New York born perfectionist starting out with a camera and later transforming himself into a movie maker. There is something of a linear connection between the two. Archivo Kubrick – an Italian website describing itself as the ultimate data base on Stanley Kubrick can be found at www.archiviokubrick.it
The late Christophe Agou, was another street photographer who spent time making a series of great images of the New York Underground transit. His untimely death at the age of 46 in 2015 stunned and saddened the world of photography. The French-born artist was another street photographer who also made films. His work, including his incredible series of New York underground shots : ‘Life Below’, can be found on his website here.
Subterranean train life also holds a fascination for Dutch street photographer Victor Borst. Enchanted by the busiest subway train system on the planet – Tokyo delivers trains to 3.17 billion people annually with a daily ride figure of 8.7 million souls – Borst has spent time below ground shooting those who populate the transit system. Like ghosts in an underground labyrinth he captures their angst, glazed-eyed anxiety and, apparent, entrapment of these travellers.
“I started doing photography ten years ago when I started travelling around the world,” Borst told me of how he came to the art. “During a trip to Kenya I started to experiment with photographing everyday people. I felt an emotional connection to these pictures, because I got into the life of another person for a brief moment. After Kenya I visited Tokyo and that city just got me hooked into street photography.”
Tokyo, of course is one of the most populated cities on the planet with a population of some 13.5 million souls and over 37 million in its greater metropolitan area. A veritable Mecca for the street photographer in his or her journey into the heart of humanity.
“The people, the rush of the city, modern, but also traditional in a way I had never experienced before,” Borst enthused. “On every corner I could find another small story to capture. Nowadays the streets of all the major big cities of the world are my playground, all with their own unique feel and people but Tokyo is still my big love for street photography. A city of millions where you can get lost in the crowds finding that one jewel of a street shot.”
It is underground we find him this time, not lost, but searching for that elusive moment, that solitary shot that will have him dancing along the platform.
His photograph of the faces behind the closed doors of the subway train as it prepares to leave for the next station is, for me, sheer genius.
I absolutely love this shot. It is almost as if humanity stuffed into a tube is sliding into despair. These faces show desolation, anticipation, the lost look of those locked inside a cylinder about to move at high speed from station A to station B.
His photograph acts as a metaphor for the modern world as we all rush from point to point in an endless panic as we move to keep appointments, secret liaisons, dates with our destinies. Sealed within our own insular worlds we rush headlong into our own individual lives within a wider collective, our individual dramas unfolding on the street (in this case below ground).
But, wait a minute, where are we headed in such a rush and why? So, why do most of us look so unhappy? Is it a metaphor for the 21st century, locked in self-imposed tubes of existence as we, inevitably, head toward our own private Armageddons? The street photographer waiting to record all this?
Our deceased friends Kubrick and Agou left a lasting legacy of images which will inform, educate and represent street photography, while new guns like Victor Borst will keep alive that spirit of pushing at existential doors, above and below ground.
In some parallel world Trainspotting’s Mark Renton (1996) is running into infinity, bowling over Bruce Gilden, separating Bill Cunningham from his bicycle. The art of street photography is forever fascinated by underground metro systems and trainspotting has become such a beautiful and modern game.