Boston Below: Photographers Explore the Underbelly of the MBTA
Two photographers have been capturing the T since 2010, and their work makes up a newly released book.
Some riders might not know itâ€”craning their necks to stare at the ground, or gazing into a smartphone as the service fluctuates, doing anything imaginable to avoid eye contact with other passengersâ€”but there’s a lot more to the MBTA than just the few stops they use during their daily commutes.
â€śMost people get on at one station, and get off on another,â€ť said photographer Joe Votano. â€śThey should know what goes on behind the MBTA. Also, they should know something about the environment they spend so much time in.â€ť
In their first-ever published book, Boston Below, throughÂ Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.,Â Votano and fellow photographer Karen Hosking explore the ins and outs of the MBTAâ€™s structure; from the people who pack the platforms and railway cars, to the workers who spend hours attending to outdated trains. They try to capture, for the first time, what Votano calls â€śan expansive view of the entire system.â€ť
â€śWe thought it was something that hadnâ€™t been done before,â€ť said Votano, a former MIT scientist and retired computer software company owner. â€śWe wanted to express the aesthetics and architecture of the stations using colors, and good perspective views of the structures. As for people, it was catching them doing just what they do. We wanted a story with each of the images. We always looked for a story behind the images.â€ť
The book, a series of 145 color and black-and-white photos, exposes the behavior of riders, the work ethic of employees, and the often-ignored landscapes that are intertwined through the miles of underground tunnels.
The book is supplemented with an expansive introduction that details the history of the entire system and how it transformed over the centuries.Â The result is a culmination of three years of images that captures anÂ â€śatmosphere of isolation,â€ť in a community of riders traveling so closely together.Â â€śPeople donâ€™t really relate to one another as much as they should. We are all in the same community, and you should think of the T riders as a community,â€ť said Votano. â€śThey are sort of estranged, but when it comes to doing something for somebody, they can be courteous.â€ť
Votano, who picked up photography in 2005, quickly made a hobby of snapping pictures of strangers going about their daily routines.Â He later met Hosking at the Greater Lynn Photographic Association, a group of avid artists that collaborate on projects, and teach the craft of taking photos.
Since 2011, Votano and Hosking have been meeting regularly, early in the morning, and exploring the Tâ€™s system, both above and below ground, and even gained access to the rail yards where the trains go for repairs and regular maintenance procedures.
Stepping outside of just the monotony of being a commuter, and taking time to examine the colors, architecture, and work that goes into keeping the vehicles running, Hosking took on a new appreciation for the antiquated transit systemâ€”something she hopes readers can digest when viewing their photos.
â€śThis project was so extensive, and we did this over many months and days, and in that time you just get better at understanding how to engage with people, and you start to notice things,â€ť she said. â€śPeople just donâ€™t notice everything about the T.â€ť
What Hosking and Votano noticed, however, was the pattern of human behaviors when sharing a train car with complete strangers.Â Within what Hosking called a â€śmicrocosmâ€ť of diversityâ€”from businessmen to artists carrying their suppliesâ€”everyone expressed a similar attitude.Â â€śI think when you look at the way people interact, itâ€™s difficult being in a compressed state when youâ€™re on the subway, especially during rush hour. If you look at some of these images, you will see that,â€ť said Votano.
Other images managed to capture people in less crowded, candid circumstances, engaged in thought as they sat huddled on the train.Â â€śSpontaneity is something you have to capture to get those moments,â€ť said Votano, admitting that sometimes he would â€śshoot from the hipâ€ť to discreetly get the perfect shot.
While portraits were often Votanoâ€™s strong suit, Hosking balanced the projectâ€™s message with her pictures of the stations’ architecture, and images of the T workers.
She said her favorite part was walking among the mechanics as they tended to the rusted train parts, once the cars came off the tracks. â€śThere was so much morale and pride in their work, it was apparent everywhere we went,â€ť she said. â€śThey were fixing these 100-year-old cars and manufacturing parts that they canâ€™t get anymore.Â Everyone was very proud of their work. It was very uplifting to see it.â€ť
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/blog/2013/11/11/boston-below-photography-book-mbta/