When you think of “subway series,” you picture the New York Yankees versus the New York Mets. The Bronx and Queens, accessible by the No. 4 and No. 7 trains which intersect at Grand Central. That station, like Times Square, and the subway system itself, is one of the great crossroads of the modern world, where all kinds of people come and go on a daily basis. There are rich, poor, foreign born and native New Yorkers. They travel to work, return home; they read, sleep, primp and eat on the trains. They’re in their own world and in ours.
Usually on the subway people look, but don’t really see. Photographer Jackie Neale not only saw and paid attention, but captured a slice of our time, using the tools of our time: a smart phone and Instagram.
When you think of Jackie Neale, you don’t think of Instagram. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and photographer at the Metropolitan Museum, she knows her way around a camera. Her work is elegant and hi-res. Why would she use a phone to capture anything but the most ordinary images? And why would she use those images to create a book?
The answer is flexibility and freedom. As with Walker Evans and Bruce Davidson, a small, portable camera, in her case a smart phone, enabled her to get very close to people in real life–and it doesn’t get any more real than the New York subway–and capture them as they are. There are no “photo faces” or “F off” gestures of anger, just people going about their lives, heading somewhere.
Unlike most phone shots, these pictures have a purpose you can sense. Despite their apparent casualness, they are telling us something about our world–our concerns, manners and dress–at this particular point in history. The absence of color allow us to concentrate on form, and also connects them to the earlier subway images of Walker Evans, and to the long tradition of gritty B&W street photography. Despite the low-res format, there is some quality that calls us back to them. They demand a second look; they fascinate.
Here are Neale’s thoughts on why she chose to do the project in the form of a book:
“From my experience, a person’s comprehension and absorption is completely different when using a computer/handheld device than when holding a tangible object like a book in their hands…. I took that experience for granted for most of my life, not thinking it was special in any way. I was never prepared to only have my work viewed on a screen, and always envision all of my bodies of work in final print form. But with an entire generation of new photographers only visualizing the end game as being on a screen, printing what people would expect to only see on their phones is my way of insisting that people appreciate more than the two-dimensional. Three dimensions represents life to me. Even a two dimensional drawing is a three dimensional object. My mind tends to go off, thinking how, in it’s own way, the concept is surreal…art imitating life, life imitating art, and becoming similar to surrealist concepts like The Treachery of Images…’Ceci n’est pas une pipe.’ But that is a bigger discussion.”
We look forward to it.
– Catherine Kirkpatrick, NY Book Society