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Fellow travelers / 2011

/photograph, 96m x130 cm/

An average of 43 seats and 226 places for standing. An inscription written in design of the 80´s. This is one of my childhood memories of a meeting with the most progressive from the means of public transport. That sign represented the purposefulness of the metro – filling a limited space with as many depersonalized units as possible. For a child this large amount of big strangers was scary, all who were not my mother were dangerous. For the adult the metro is a synonym of rush, stress and nervousness.

Ironically, it is metro that we choose as a place of our everydayness. We need metro; it’s too practical to be beautiful. The commuters from the outskirts of the city working in the center spend an hour of every working day travelling to work. The metro is the symptom of the cyclical perception of time: the tunnel is always the same, the station is always the same even the people are always the same, one uniform crowd every morning and evening. The only individuality that exists is Me, the rest is chaos, a school of fish. We keep ourselves in this illusion, because there are too many of us there.

An underground journey is a common fragment in the mosaic of individual stories. The group of people who for the moment become marginal figures in our own story, our traveling companions, is determined randomly by time and place. They try to enter into our personal space. The part of the metro car that is in the action radius of our visual perception is no larger than the average living room. The metro seats are in fact not much different from the typical living room sofas. It's hard to imagine that we could in the intimacy of our house repeat the normal everyday situation of taking a metro seat next to a stranger. The normally understood and relatively stable boundaries of public and private space blurs in metro and elsewhere in public transport.

The photograph Fellow travelers is a group portrait of people who do not belong to each other. The only thing they share is entering the metro car and my random photographic choice. Fellow travelers is a document about a wait on a long living room ottoman on the way from nowhere to nowhere. An underground journey is an activity that we do in a more or less passive way, that is waiting for "our” station. We can make use of this wait by reading newspapers or books, tampering with a cell phone, working on the PC, watching people, advertisements or route, listening to music or by conversing with others. However most of the time by sitting with a luggage on our lap. On the photograph these everyday practical things function as distinctive attributes of the portrayed people that can – like the dress and the general appearance – set apart the individual human from a long line of fellow travelers.

Studying these subtle differences fascinates me in almost a voyeuristic way and retroactively creates an imaginative space for the storytelling of individual stories. But it is only when we look at these people for the first time through the medium of photography – the same people we would have overlooked in the metro – when can their stories, or our ideas about them, emerge to the surface.

The photograph is 96 meters long, that is just as long as one metro-train. It should be ideally placed directly in the tunnel of the metro station above the tracks.