Friday, 3 December 2010

A face in the crowd

A favourite subject for photographers gathered into a collection by photographer Michael Wolf – in a book called Tokyo Compression. Reviewed in The Guardian by Justin McCurry.

There always seems to be two Tokyos, one where the imagined/real images hold true and one where they don't. Like Justin in his review, I very rarely experience the crowded trains these days – like most people I know I don't work in an office and don't commute, so this life of the "salaryman" and "office lady" is alien to me now. But for three years when I first came to Japan I did commute to an office, and my local station was one that featured the white-gloved assistants to push you on the train. Luckily I was only one express stop from Shibuya, so the trip was short. But such assistants are on my out-of-town local station in rush hour even now – luckily I have only had to use a rush-hour morning train on about 3 occasions in the past four years.

I did once see a woman faint on a crowded train, and remain standing up (there was nowhere to fall) until the next stop where people gently helped her out to lie on the platform.

A friend commented while on a (non-crowded) train, that the people asleep – heads lolling, mouths open, unguarded – were allowing themselves to be seen as even friends don't usually see them. As though making their own private space where strangers can see them in a way that closer friends don't. Of course, now those private moments are recorded in this book: that's perhaps what makes the images more interesting than just photos of the crush. Whether what the photographer saw and what the private thoughts were is a match we'll never know.

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