fLIP Magazine / Online Feature

Commuterline

by Simon Short

 

Having embarked on several photographic road trips across the back roads of America, spanning several years and taking in many rural towns, I received some simple advice some time later – why don’t I try something nearer to home? I also remember hearing photographers say this; that you cannot call yourself a photographer until you have photographed your own back yard. Worthy of debate perhaps, but I did exactly that. I photographed closer to home.

As I commuted from my country town to work in the city 35-40 miles away, the answer to my next project was literally staring me in the face, as the changing landscape revealed itself through the train windows.

Finding it difficult to read anything during my commute due to being constantly distracted by things I could photograph (do other photographers find themselves doing this?), I started to consider the implications of walking through the landscape the train travels through, from my hometown, through countryscapes, villages, other towns, the edge of the city and finally the city itself. Some of this is familiar subject matter of course, particularly the edge of cities and the familiar ’empty’ landscape, but other mini-themes started to emerge within the whole, allowing me to group these together as I embarked on my physical challenge of crossing this landscape.

I found myself questioning our perceptions of public and private space, while negotiating the physical obstacles that lie in my path whether dense woods and undergrowth, waterlogged areas, keep out signs, high walls, construction sites, etc. Some obstacles will thwart you of course, and I found myself forced to take considerable detours away from the edge of the railway, but all of this is intertwined with the question of who has the right to own an area of land that is defined as ‘private’, and the rights of anyone to walk across that land.

I have backed this approach with some images shot through the train windows, to gain views not available to me walking at ground level. I hope this strengthens the idea of travelling, of the commute to work, and the images flashing by commuters in varying states of alertness as the train rumbles along.

This is an ongoing project begun a few years back. I’m looking to find a natural end point, but where this is I don’t yet know, especially as this landscape keeps changing, most noticeably in the city but also almost imperceptibly in country areas too. In the end, what I am aiming for is a photographic document of the changing country-to-city landscape, as defined loosely by the route the railway takes.

 

On the theme of CLOSER, Spring 2013