So I was flicking through some old photographs the other night when I came across the shot that I start this post with. It's pretty old. It's nearly eight years old.
(Where the fuck did eight years of my life go?)
Anyway – the picture – it's the 1st of January 2007. I'm standing on the northbound platform at Lambeth North tube station. I was with my then boyfriend at the time, and we'd walked from the Shell Building at Waterloo to Lambeth North because there was absolutely no hope in hell that we were going to get into the tube station there. As it goes, we were staying at the Hilton in Paddington that night, so it's not as if we had to get home in a hurry, but it was still a drama. We got to Lambeth North and the platform was (as usual) rammed at one end, so we walked down to the other end, and soon enough everybody else followed. I think I was taking pictures pretty much every day at this point in my life, so tonight was no different. I was in love with the work of Travis Ruse at the time (who took photographs on the New York Subway, though he has stopped now – check out travisruse.com). I don't know who the girl in the picture was. I never asked her name, and we were a small distance apart. I'd have to speak with a raised voice to have been able to get her attention. She looked pre-occupied, like she was about to cry. She kept standing on tiptoes, back against the tiled wall on the platform, like she was looking for somebody in the crowd but couldn't find them. She was jostled once or twice by the platform now becoming crowded at our end. She didn't get on the train because she didn't make an attempt to board. She hung back.
I didn't even think twice about it. Before I knew it, I'd already taken the shot. It was one shot and one shot only – I very rarely used the "burst" mode on my camera. I was so used to taking pictures of people on the tube back then. I don't remember reviewing the shot immediately afterwards because I was hurried onto the train. I think it was only later on the following day that I happened to have a look at it and think it was a fairly decent picture. I uploaded it to Flickr later on that evening. It got a few comments. On the whole, it went down well. Now that I look at it with a more technical head on, I don't think it's the greatest picture I've ever taken (because I'm a perfectionist like that), but I don't think it's the worst. I took the photograph because of the human emotion that I could see and I feel that I got some of that. And now I think about it I feel pretty awful.
As I get older, I get more weary about having my photograph taken. I don't photograph well on a good day, and I have a knack for putting on the weirdest faces. I often obscure my face on public transport with the usual tactic of putting my hood up and/or placing my bag on my lap so I can hide behind it. With social media having become a thing now, and with the age of mobile technology and cameras getting smaller, I get paranoid about "candid" pictures being taken of me by complete strangers, never mind them uploading it to one of a bazillion websites out there on the Internet. Which makes me wonder how I ever had the nerve in the first place to photograph a complete stranger.
But it was the same with my employment on the Underground, not to mention my place of work. I'm not even sure how it happened, but in the end the people I worked with just got used to me with a camera all the bloody time. And those I didn't work with soon became aware of the situation...
At one point, I had a project-come-obsession based around people who had fallen asleep on the tube on my travels to and from my place of work. I called it Slumber line and it resulted in a small collection of mainly black and white photographs on the subject.
This whole obsession with people, emotions, and daily observations on life as I knew it at the time, carried on for a few years, both at work and outside of work. I'm not sure when the pseudo-reportage photos stopped, but I know they're not a regular feature these days, if at all. I never really noticed, until a few months ago a friend mentioned how he missed my old reportage shots. This made me feel a bit lost. I still carry a camera with me all the time, but when I see potential for freezing a frame of human life right in front of me, I just can't do it anymore. I'm just not brave enough.
I don't even take pictures every day anymore. Sometimes I think I've lost my nerve and just don't have the edge anymore – it must be something to do with self-confindence and self-esteem, because over the last eight years it slowly dissolved, and it's only in the last year or so, with some positive and critical reception to my photography from people within the organisation that I work for, that I'm perhaps starting to build up that confidence to shoot again. At the same time though, I get this overwhelming sense of peace when I don't find myself obsessing over where I should be pointing my camera on any given day. Occasionally, I have to remind myself that in itself is ok, and sometimes without warning, I get the odd wave of people and emotions drifting into my photographs again – the LU150 celebrations is a sound example of that. I'm never sure about myself though, and whether I should be more focused on it again like I was eight years ago.
Then again, I was a different person eight years ago.