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March 11, 2008
New York photographer Bill Sullivan has created an interesting series of 48 anonymous urban portraits, all taken as people (strangers) approach the camera through a subway turnstile. So, the framing is consistent throughout the series, and we're able to soak up the details of people lost in their own thoughts while in transit.
Sullivan explains, "For the Subway Turnstile Pictures (More Turns), I developed a situation so that various subjects could be defined by the constraints of exactly the same mechanical apparatus. At the moment that the subjects passed through the turnstile, unknown to them, I took their picture stationed at a distance of eleven feet. I stood there turning pages of a magazine observing subjects out of the corner of my eye, waiting for only the moment when they pushed the turnstile bar to release the shutter."
The results remind me of how often we are photographed daily in such situations by surveillance equipment. What I find especially interesting in these photos is the often hostile look of recognition that occurs when the commuters notice the camera and photographer. Those who don't notice look completely lost in their own thoughts.
This work is actually part of a trilogy, called 3Situations. The other 2 series involve people sitting for another artist’s portrait, or being in an elevator as the doors open and close. Sullivan claims that through his consistent framing, we are able to see "how the grammar of portraiture is found in the world around us."
The way he has built his web site is cool, too, as it shows all of the portraits smack up against each other, side by side. Thus, it constructs a super-wide bank of subway turnstiles all occupied simultaneously by exiting commuters. It almost looks like the starting gate for a horse race.