Inspiration is found in many places. Some find it in the beauty of nature, some find it in the chaos of the modern world. Steve Whittier found it in the isolation of the New York Subway.
Artist: Steve Whittier
Day Job: Digital Creative Director // Select NY
MC: Youâ€™ve said that you have never owned a proper camera until you picked one up to shoot your â€œTen Feet Awayâ€ project? What inspired you to finally start shooting?
SW: I never bought a real camera before because it looked like so much effort to learn all the details. My exposure to photography has been hiring professional photographers who have assistants and all this equipment. I thought that’s way to much to learn. I started taking pictures of people on the subway on my way to work to kill time with my phone and posting them. That was easy, and people really liked them. I then decided I wanted to take higher res images, so I went to a camera store, showed the sales guy a phone image and said I wanted a camera to take a bigger version of this.
MC: There is a sense of isolation and solitude in many of the images in â€œTen Feet Away.â€Â From where is this derived?
SW:Â I think over time on the subway you become numb to the fact that there are all these people and all this noise around you. You start to wall off into your own world that makes you look unconnected and lonely. I’ve sat across from people I know, and they didn’t see me. The loneliness in shooting was that I had to blend in, not be obvious. I was riding the subway alone for virtually every image I took in the book. For around 40 weeks it was just me on the weekends or late at night. When you get deep into the boroughs, the trains get emptier, the platforms are emptier. I always was aware that while most people were in Central Park with friends, I was out there with my camera.
MC:Â If you think about it, the Subway is one of the least isolated and lonely spaces you could be inâ€¦ especially in NYC. What do you think it is about the people and the environment that make it seem so reclusive?
SW:Â It’s hard to be on public display every day, so you wall yourself off to avoid the constant stimulation during the ride.
MC: You have worked with photographers for the majority of your professional career. Do you think that had anything to do with your choice of medium when seeking out a personal project?
Â SW:Â I think it was more the immediacy of photography at first. Then it became familiar really quickly. It’s a portable art. I’ve always loved to wander around, and to have a camera in my hand just adds to the experience. And I like to shoot almost exclusively real people going about their day (or night). This I think comes from a career of art directing lifestyle shoots. It’s made me understand body language and what works in an image and what doesn’t.
Â MC:Â How do the commercial photographers you work withÂ influenceÂ your photographic work?
Â SW:Â Four people have really influenced me out of all the people I’ve worked with. John Huet for how relaxed to stay shooting. He controls what he can and then works with it. Richard Schultz for natural light and where to be and how to shoot if there is none. Embry Rucker for authenticity.Â Michael Haegele for figuring out theÂ mathematicalÂ impossibilities of a moment.
Â MC:Â How has persuing this project affected your professional work?
Â SW:Â It’s helped me explain my vision of a shot better. It’s made me more buttoned up in briefing while at the same time making me clearer on set as to what to suggest on the fly while shooting.
Â MC:Â Do you feel you work with photographers differently now?
Â SW:Â I’m not a photographer. I’m a designer. I’ve always approached work this way, and this hasn’t changed my approach. I don’t do what they do, so I keep to my discipline.
Â SW:Â Yes, I did a horrible job of cataloging 10 months of shooting, so there’s that. And I now know how hard editing is when you start with everything that was shot, not just the photographer’s selects. And where you position the camera and waiting for that moment.
Â MC:Â After “Ten Feet Away”â€¦do you plan on continuing to shoot?
Â SW:Â I’m still shooting. Right now I have a book I’m working on. “I’m going for a walk”. It’s four years of shooting what I see when I walk out my door around my neighborhood. Like the square mile around me.
To see more of Steve’s work visit his tumblr page.
See full post here: Marilyn Cadenbach Blog2014-06-16.