The Art of the Mundane


People and cell phones beneath the Verizon sign, Grand Central Terminal, New York City, October 2015

When I’m shooting, I am rarely an artist. Indeed, I can go so far as to say that the creation of an art piece rarely rises to the surface when I have my camera, as there are many more pressing issues to keep in mind such as the technical aspects (exposure, lighting, focus, aperture, etc.). However, there are as many real-life issues that require my attention. Do I want the subject to see me? Are there interesting gestures and connections that warrant a photo? Do I snap now, wait a bit, or walk on? Is this something that someone will find interesting in 25 years?

The last question is increasingly the predominant one, especially since I now have photos I like that are 25, 30, and even 40+ years old. As such, I’m usually in documentation mode rather than artist mode. This photo is the result of my documentarian nature, as I’ve given myself the task of capturing the numerous scenes of people who are interacting with their devices to the exclusion of all else, including each other. While I hope this phase passes, I suspect it will simply blend into a similar trend.

Still, even documentarian photographers need to strive towards artistry if they expect their photos to last long enough to be seen through history’s lens. A boring photo in 2017 will be a boring photo in 2047 with some interesting folks in it. Let me say this for the 100th time: a photo has to be interesting in itself; the subject alone cannot be the shot’s sole redeeming feature. I waited on this small group of people until someone did something interesting — a Joel Meyerowitz-worthy gesture that would capture the viewer’s eye. In this case, the husband, center, accommodated me by raising his phone in the air, presumably in camera mode, and gave me a reason to click. Was it enough, given the dingy, jaundiced lighting in the terminal?

Only time will tell.