Grand Central Station, New York City, New York, is a classic photographer’s hot spot. The world famous Vanderbilt developed rail terminal, the largest in the world, is the center of transit in and out of New York. As if the classic Beaux-Arts architecture of the facility to attract the photographer’s lens, the ever changing landscape of travelers is food for the long-exposure hungry. But even with such a typical shooting location, there are still those shots that stand apart from the others. To learn why, we turn to this week’s photo, appropriately titled Grand Central, from Ryan Kasak which is shown here.
Ryan’s portrayal of Grand Central Station is not unlike many that you’ve seen. You’ve seen the flip boards, the characteristic flooring and the ornate detailing in the ceiling pieces in a great number of photographs, movies and even television commercials. Sadly, a photograph at such a well known location is often unfairly dismissed as cliche. But that would be like dismissing any and all portraits featured on a blue background. If, hypothetically, Grand Central Station were a boring, drab and institutional looking facility, we’d be able to look past the setting – beyond the backdrop – and take it for what it is: Street photography…inside. And so I will address this photo from that perspective and discuss its virtues among others of the street photography genre. Grand Central is, after all, just a setting, nothing more.
So, from a street photographer’s perspective, the thing that sets this photo apart from others is the element of time. As would be implied, most street photography is shot outdoors in broad daylight, and so it’s rare and difficult to capture scenes and candid portraits with any decent segment of time. Moving indoors into a space large enough to house large quantities of people affords Ryan the ability to introduce a time segment. Grand Central uses an exposure of 1/13, a long exposure for any living subject even when they’re trying to stay still. The result is blurry people moving through the space, a clear indication of the activity that happens in such a facility. The movement alone would make for an interesting photograph, but that won’t tell a complete story, and it certainly won’t establish a connection with the viewer as well as Ryan’s photograph here.
So why is it that we find Ryan’s photo so intriguing? What is the one element that makes his shot stand apart from the rest at this famous location? It’s the element of stillness in an otherwise blurry field of people. It’s the guy near and right with the shorts and headphones checking the boards, or the guy checking his paper schedule middle and left or, for that matter, the older woman doing the same at the ticket window just behind him. These are the elements that Ryan uses as compositional anchors. These are the people that pull us in, and we play simple games trying to figure out their thoughts and their actions (or lack thereof). Sure, 1/13 isn’t that dramatically long, but it is clearly long enough to separate those in a rush from those with more patience. This is our lesson: When working with long exposures, that which doesn’t move is nearly as important (if not more important) than those elements that blur through the frame.
Ryan Kasak is a photographer out of Detroit. While he may dabble into architectural photography with a few portraits or detail shots of cars here and there, most of Ryan’s work is street photography and his works are quite good. To see more of his work, you can visit his photostream on Flickr. Alternatively, you can also find his work at his personal website, Trovarsi Photography.