Present as a Kind of Ruin, 2011
In Present as a Kind of Ruin, I traveled to the furthest regions of New York City’s outer boroughs, photographing scenes from the vantage point of an elevated subway car. The cityscapes seen from inside the train can seem hazy and dreamy, because to many such end-of-the-line views are foreign, almost unrecognizable as the city they believe they know intimately. When riding on these elevated tracks I often used to find myself constructing narratives for these places as I looked out from the train window, dreaming up acts and characters as if the unfamiliar vistas were instead stages upon which my imagination could run wild. I decided to record these trips with a series of photographs that seeks not to document the neighborhoods seen from elevated trains, but rather to preserve this manner of distant looking and to capture the experience of creating fictional narratives encouraged by the filters of elevation and train windows. These filters provide the necessary distance to permit viewers to overlay a vibrant and real cityscape with their own whims and concerns.
The subway window in this series acts as a frame, limiting and distorting view. Images are muddled and mutated by dirt, smudges, scratches, reflections of the train interior, and even the texture of the window itself, while the small rectangle of space provided for viewing the outside world closely constricts the portion of the exterior that can be glimpsed. This distortion not only limits but also liberates, for through it these landscapes become surreal, ephemeral, monumental—not vulnerable (for the moment, at least) to the experiences that might, upon immersion in a neighborhood, shake away fancies and force reality upon the imagination. We cannot truly touch them, blocked by both the confines and motions of a swaying train and the speed at which it travels. The distant and fleeting quality of the images allows us to imagine these worlds as anything we please. While we remain confined behind panes of glass, our fantasies, and the innocence with which they can refresh and restore us, are preserved.