If you’ve ever been walking down the street and glanced in the store window as you walked by, you were probably surprised by your reflection. You don’t typically look into the camera when you’re thinking of a million things, calculating how you’re going to get from here to there. But, in this moment, you catch yourself by surprise. You see your expression, and it’s not what you’re used to.
Your lips are pursed and your eyebrows are furrowed. You look concentrated, or maybe annoyed. Never fear—no one can blame you. After all, you are moving through a congested mass of people.
But still, it’s startling. You wonder how long you’ve been holding this expression for.
Then, looking at your reflection, the fleeting idea might hit you that you are making the same expression as the people around you. They’re moving swiftly, checking their phones, staring right ahead, looking at the ground. It’s odd, and perhaps a little disorienting, to notice that you’re all moving as a mass of distracted people.
But photographer Peter Funch saw a beauty in these expressions. So much so that he used these moments to compile his book, “42nd and Vanderbilt”.
Standing just outside of Grand Central Station, Funch spent nine years capturing these moments. He noted that there were patterns in the ways that people moved and the way that their facial expressions changed. The similarity that he found amongst almost all subjects, however, was that they were living within themselves as their photo was being taken. You can see in all of their expressions that they’re more focused on what’s going on in their inner-world than the multitude of distractions that are happening in the city around them.
And there’s something kind of beautiful about that. Funch’s work serves as a reminder that everyone is their own little universe. And even if we’re all moving together, traveling from one destination to another, we’re each dealing with completely different experiences.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Funch’s book is that there are some subjects that appear more than once. For example, one woman appeared in two photos a year apart. Another man appeared in a photo in 2007, and then again in 2012. The shots are interesting because we get to see these people twice, both in tiny moments of concentrated time, leaving us with no idea where they were going or where they were coming from, or how they had changed since the last photo was taken.
Some could say that this photo series is invasive, and that’s understandable. There’s something very personal about these moments that Funch captures unbeknownst to his subjects. Yet there is nothing malicious about the work. It doesn’t poke fun at the fact that these people were caught off-guard, but rather shines a ray of beauty on these discrete, often ignored moment in a person’s day-to-day life.
As you move through the photos, you grow to care more for the strangers that Funch captured than you would about someone in a posed photograph. These strangers’ emotions are more raw. With each repeated image of a person, the viewer gets a sense of their daily routine.
Personally, when I see these photos I want to wish these strangers a good day. Ironically, if I were to see them on the street while walking from Grand Central, I probably wouldn’t give them a second glance.
All photos featured here are by Peter Funch. To check out more of his photos, you can go to his website.
Feature photo by Brandon Nickerson on Unsplash