Scenes from a Street Car
For my latest art photography blog post, I’d like to talk you through the technique of putting the viewer in a photograph – to make them feel that they themselves are part of the scene, rather than simply observing a static image.
Street cars are very much a feature of life here in Toronto, and they have been since 1861, which is pretty amazing when you consider that’s a century and a half ago. It’s actually the largest street car transit system in the Americas, in terms of number of passengers, number of actual cars and the length of track that is used, which comes to a grand total of 51 miles. Around 285,000 people use the Toronto street car system daily, which means that over 100 million trips are made on a yearly basis. Street cars are perhaps as synonymous with Toronto as trolley buses are with San Francisco.
Preserving a Small Slice of History
I’m a frequent street car user, and I wanted to capture and preserve an image so I could offer a sense of what it means to ride a street car on one of these journeys. I think the essence of this art print comes with the idea that I have simply pulled out my camera whilst the street car is in motion, snapped a picture, and then secreted my camera away again without anyone noticing.
The actual story behind this shot is quite different. Motion is one of a photographer’s enemies (unless it is motion that is being photographed, of course) as motion causes blurring, and that’s not what I was attempting to capture. I had my camera ready, waiting for the street car to stop, and before the doors opened and people were allowed on. Thankfully, no one was waiting to alight, which would have ruined the impression I wanted to create. In the few seconds I had managed to compose the shot, and capture it in the way I was hoping for.
Travelling Without Moving
Our brains are very good at filling in gaps and making deductions. Even though the art print is presented as a still image, do you get the impression of movement? I do, and I hope you do too. I think the brain “expects” motion – as when you are on a bus or street car you’re usually moving, and in the photograph there are no clues that the car is stationery, so your brain “deduces” that you’re moving.
I think the angle of the seats adds to this sense of forward momentum. I’m pleased I’ve captured their symmetry, which, when coupled with the lines on the floor, really gives the photo a sense of forward movement.
I love the way everything really seems to come together – the sense of motion, the angles of the lines, even the people themselves. The other reason I believe the lines and angles are so pronounced is because I took this photograph in black and white and I really do “see” very differently in black and white. Together I feel it really gives a sense of the viewer being part of the picture, instead of being detached from it, which is what I set out to achieve.
Street cars are one of the themes I love to explore with my photography. They are so much part of urban Toronto and city life but who knows for how much longer? When that sad day comes, at least I’ll be able to say I’ve played my part in preserving just a little bit of Toronto’s unique heritage.