The origin of this series was SFO’s train station. I’d been traveling for the last week to present a poster on my research and was just a train ride away from home. As I waited, I found myself wondering what a picture would look like if it was taken from the center of the tracks, staring down towards the tunnel at the end of the station. Unwilling to give my life for a roll of film, I wound my poster into a tight cylinder and stuffed it with shirts for structure. Tying the camera precariously to my makeshift boom arm with a scarf, I dangled it over the tracks. I spent three hours there trying to capture the trains, which arrived every half-hour, from what would appear to be an impossible perspective. The spontaneity, the instant need to realize this visual potential, made me feel for the first time like an artist.
Unfortunately, none of these pictures were ever captured. I’d loaded the film incorrectly, and not a single shot in the roll was ever actually exposed. It was profoundly demotivating, and coming in the middle of a depressive epsidode, it was heartbreaking. My spontaneous excitement for that shot could never be recaptured, even if I could recreate the photos. But the idea was still good, and I knew that given a proper tripod and a full day instead of a rolled-up poster and a few hours, I could create even more compelling photos.
And so, on an early Saturday morning. I biked to the Palo Alto train station with my camera and a backpack of supplies. With no plan, I wandered train lines up and down the coast, from Berkeley to San Jose. I experimented, climbing to the roof of the Palo Alto train station and leaning out over the subway tracks with my camera at the end of my tripod. My light meter stopped working about halfway through the journey, so I began training myself to judge the lighting manually. As I rode, I knit and watched the windows carefully. Whenever I saw a station which looked particularly interesting, I stepped off the train and began taking pictures before stepping on board whichever train arrived next. Full of manic energy, I wandered for the full day before traveling back home.
The prints in the bottom row are the product of this day -- the most interesting perspectives, settings, moments, lighting across my journey. The name, of course, is a reference to the arrival times depicted on the BART's dot-matrix signs. On the other hand, the top row is a series of corresponding prints made from the developed but unexposed first roll of film. At a literal level, the two rows demonstrate an evolution in process: how a lost vision can inspire something complex and meaningful.
But more conceptually, they are an autobiographical representation of the struggle of depressive episodes. Both rows represent the same places, and the correspondence in values depicts that. But in the top row, all that is beautiful -- the glint of metal, pools of black, reflections of wet stone -- is washed out into a solid grey. Many of the technical choices in the construction of this series are designed to evoke the feeling of a deteriorating mental state, slipping in and out of a haze of grey. In value, the series is a jagged spectrum towards black. A sign depicting a suicide hotline in the third picture centers -- literally -- mental health in the narrative and reveals the significance of trains in the series. Perhaps most strikingly, the fourth photo is taken from the perspective of someone balancing on a rail, waiting in the tracks for the next train to come. In the bottom row, the isolation and self-destructiveness is clear as the dark tunnel seems to beckon with the help of arrows overhead. In the top, however, it’s only another shade of grey.
Higher quality scans are available here: