In a discussion about his photographic contribution to the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Pool, the photographer – known only to us as Stormdog – and I briefly discussed the New York Subway system. We both admitted that we could easily spend a few days exploring and photographing the vast system of tunnels, trains and platforms. If you’ve never experienced New York’s subways, you have no idea – nothing compares to it. This wonderful shot, 96th Street Subway Platform, was captured at one such platform in the New York Subway system.
At first glance, we are drawn into the shot. Aside from the obvious vanishing point and the repetitive pattern directing your eye to a nonexistent distant point, there is something else compelling about the shot: The unique vantage point. Before you think I’m crazy, think about it for a minute. Here we are on a subway platform, a place that many of us visit regularly, sometimes twice daily. In theory, this should not be an unusual scene to all of us. But think about how you visit the subway. Do you stand near the edge of the platform as you wait for the train? No. You stand back, sit on a bench 15-20′ from the tracks. Or you lean against one of those pillars. But how many of you will stand a foot or two from the edge and look straight down the tracks? Stormdog is so close that the expansion joint in the floor and the boarding light strip on the ceiling appears as a vertical line. But that’s what urban photography is about – introducing the viewer to a vantage point they could see every single day – if only they would just look around.
Vanishing points are great to take advantage of in photography, especially in urban environments where there are lots of unnaturally straight, man-made lines: Sidewalks, railroad tracks, building edges, pavements, ad nauseam. Stormdog shows one us how powerful vanishing points can be in photography – it really gives a great depth to the shot and provides the viewer a general feeling of the scale of the space. Here we not only see the defined lines – the expansion joint in the floor, the tracks themselves, the light strip above – but we can also take note of the imaginary lines: The imaginary line formed from the perpendicular sections of the steel on the top right or the lines formed at the points where the pillars meet the floor. Be aware of these lines; they are not always so apparent, but can have a great impact in your photos.
Repetition is another great compositional tool that Stormdog takes advantage of here. The repetition of the beams and the railroad tracks are quite obvious, but I would like to point out how it is used here to create a depth. Lets use the pillars on the left as an example. In plan, these pillars are equidistant – they are spaced at a set interval. In the photograph, you will note that the further these pillars are from the camera, the closer they appear. In the photograph, this subtle cue is essential for understanding the depth of this space. If we were actually in the space, we would not actively consider this fact unless we are concentrating on it. This isn’t exactly something you have control over. After all, it wouldn’t matter where you stood on the platform – if you looked generally down the tracks in either direction, the interval would appear diminishing. But it would not be so obvious if you stood too close to the objects in question. Note that if you were to cover the tops and bottoms of the pillars on the right, the diminishing interval is not so apparent. Something to consider when setting up a shot.
Stormdog’s 96th Street Subway Platform has taught us much. It has showed us a view most would take for granted. It teaches us about vanishing points, imaginary lines, repetition and diminishing intervals. But for those of us who have not been in New York’s subway system, it teaches us about places that we have not been in an urban environment. As simple as this shot may be, it’s captivating and deserves our attention. Thanks to Stormdog for allowing us to share it with you.