Editor’s Note: Theresa Stigale has been a workhorse contributor to the Hidden City Daily, shooting portraits of life on 52nd Street, Woodland Avenue and the Calle de Oro a.k.a. North Fifth Street to name just a few. Here, she takes a look at life on SEPTA in a project she began for a class at University of the Arts. Subways have been proven to be fertile ground for photographers over the years, most famously Walker Evans’s and Bruce Davidson’s portraits of passengers in New York City. Theresa’s project focused on something a little different, though. We’ll let her tell it:
“This project started out with my attraction to the imperfections in glass, especially when they are exaggerated by artificial illumination at night, which creates unusual color temperatures. The light reflected off of glass surfaces at night was actually quite beautiful, despite its imperfections, especially in the rain. With that as my starting point, I sought to capture scenes where this scratched and defaced glass could frame or enhance the people in my photos, or even stand alone as a statement of the actual conditions in the SEPTA system.
“The project segued from photographing just “night glass,” to more a narrative of the commuter on a journey, hinting at people’s isolation even though they were in a public place. I worked as unobtrusively as possible, to capture authentic moments, whereas in most of my street photography I enjoy meeting new people and engaging in conversations. I used my compact Sony RX-100, which is not much bigger than my iPhone. I never hid my camera and wore it over my coat.
“But as I was shooting I was also keenly aware that I too was being observed–usually by jammed cars full of commuters, some glaring at my camera suspiciously. As interesting as those images would have been, I was not interested in confrontation. Occasionally it was unavoidable, though: A SEPTA worker on an El platform pointed out in the most friendly way possible, the many cameras in which I was being recorded myself. A group of police officers in the subway concourse downtown looked at me with amusement and asked why I was taking photos but did not stop me–not that they should have. I had read up on SEPTA’s photography policies and knew that it was okay to take pictures. This was afterall, a “personal project” and I was being ‘courteous.'”