I have long been interested in creating a series of images, as I think most photographers long to do—to create something that defines their work, something that allows a feeling of accomplishment and portrays a piece of themselves and how they see the world. This was no small task for me, and one that eluded me for many years. Determining what I really love to photograph, let alone determining a series that would have an actual start and finish and fall within a genre and style that I want my work to progress from has been many years in the making, not to mention many moments of extreme frustration.
One early Sunday morning I found myself riding the Chicago ‘L’ toward downtown and it just sort-of hit me, an idea to present Chicago from this unique perspective. I have always found the ‘L’ fascinating, maybe because I grew up in such a small town and public transportation like this felt so urban, so foreign—the complete opposite of the rural town I was used to. There’s a grittiness to the ‘L’— traveling this way you feel like you’re a part of the city and you see the city from a perspective that can’t be seen any other way.
I decided this was how I was going to explore Chicago and how I was going to showcase this city in a unique way. I challenged myself to capture the way this city feels and looks from the lines I was familiar with and those I had never traveled. And hopefully allow my fellow Chicagoans, visitors and those who have never visited here the same experience.
There are 8 lines in Chicago’s elevated train system, the Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red and Yellow lines. Some lines are entirely elevated; others (the Blue and Red lines) are partial subways. I traveled every mile of each of these lines with the goal of exploring and portraying how the city looks and feels from the various neighborhoods each line runs through.
I wanted it to be clear these images were shot from the ‘L’, so in many of the images I included portions of the windows and doors to allow the viewer a sense of what it feels like to view the city from within the train cars. Most often I shot from the back or front car and occasionally through the doors passengers enter and exit. Technically speaking, a higher ISO and shutter speed were required to prevent excessive blurring, but other than that there were no special techniques involved.
The only real challenges were, on occasion, dealing with a train operator who believed I was not allowed to take images from the train, despite the CTA’s website clearly stating individuals are allowed to take photos and video as long as they’re not used for commercial purposes. Most people were just curious about what I was doing and asked many questions, it was definitely an interesting experience and a unique way to see Chicago.
If you’d like to see all the images made from the series, the full set is here
Individual blog posts from each line while creating the series are here
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