In transit with Lauren Welles, interview by Charlene Winfred for #HerSideoftheRoad
Please tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, where do you live now? What’s your background in photography? How and when you were drawn to the street genre?
First, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you. And now to your questions: I was born in NYC, raised on Long Island and currently live in NYC. I’ve been photographing since 2003 and am primarily self taught. I was drawn to the street genre somewhat unintentionally. When I caught the photography bug, I was working full time as an attorney, feeling very unfulfilled, career wise. I didn’t have a lot of time to photograph, so I started waking up 45 minutes earlier than usual to walk to work, photographing along the way. I didn’t realize I was doing street photography; I didn’t even know it was a genre at the time. By paying attention to what I used to deem “my banal surroundings” I started seeing stories everywhere and pretty much got hooked.
Your Subway NYC series is really vibrant, with a swathe of characters in almost constant (frozen) motion. What made you decide to do this project? And how long did it take to put this particular series together?
As with almost all of my street photography, I didn’t decide to make this a project. I just go out and shoot and see what comes of it. I ride the subway a lot and usually have my camera with me, so I’m bound to take photos there. Every so often I go over old photos. Recently, I saw I had lots of subway photos and started editing to see if there was a commonality among them. The thread was the same one I find throughout a lot of my photography — a slice of life. So I guess it’s turned into an ongoing project with no end in sight (as long as I’m riding the subway, I’ll be on the lookout!) These photos were made over the last four years.
Are there particular differences about shooting on the subway, compared to shooting while you’re out and about walking? Do people react differently, do you find yourself employing a different approach?
Even thought they’re mostly indoors, the stations and the platforms are like the outside streets to me since everyone is free to move about. I shoot the same way as I do when I’m above ground. But when I’m shooting in the cars themselves, the space between people is more intimate and confined. I tend to take more time checking my surroundings, making sure I feel safe and that I’m being as discreet as possible, before taking a shot. If someone gets upset or reacts aggressively, it’s harder to walk away, so I use my intuition as best I can to feel out the situation.
Were there any memorable moments?
This may sound a bit corny, but it’s rare that there isn’t a memorable moment when I’m on the subway (whether or not I come away with a photograph.) There has been so much gentrification in NYC (as in most cities.) The subway is one of the only places left where I still feel like I’m in the “real” New York on a daily basis. People of every ethnicity, religion, economic, educational level and social status come together in a small space. During that time, our differences are irrelevant — we’re all just people going from one place to another. I meet so many interesting people and have great conversations with random strangers. So it’s not necessarily the memories from making these photographs, but the mere fact of interacting with a diversity of people, that makes it interesting to me.
Are you a film or digital shooter?
I’m a digital shooter.
All the street work on your site is in black and white. Why?
I started out shooting in color, but I found black and white to be more succinct. I want my photos to be about the people in them. To me, color is a subject all its own and can compete for attention with the intended protagonists. By eliminating it, there’s one less thing I have to think about while I’m out shooting. The less I have to concentrate on, the freer I am to enjoy the experience. But who knows, I’m sure one day I’ll try doing something in color, just to change things up.
Who are your influences/inspirations?
A mix of influence and/or inspiration: Winogrand, William Klein, Cartier-Bresson, Koudelka, Sylvia Plachy, Jill Freedman. Jason Eskenazi, Keith Carter, Larry Fink, Helen Levitt, Martha Cooper, Richard Sandler, Sam Abell, Saul Leiter. This list could get extremely long, so I’ll stop here!