Thursday, December 28, 2006

Going Nowhere Fast

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake
"Auguries of Innocence"

There is something unique and entrancing about David Crawford's Stop Motion Series. It is voyeurism at its best, served with a healthy dose of normalcy and the everyday. I could spend hours watching these brief little human moments pass by in all their glorious bumpy starts and stops.

I have always been fascinated with people on subways. I do the delicate dance of looking without appearing to look. After all, the very WORST thing you can do in a city is get caught staring at someone, it could lead to an unpleasant incident, or at the very least, it makes you stand out like a country mouse.

One summer when I was 18 yrs old, I lived on the Upper West Side and worked in the East Village. It took me one long agonizing hour and three trains to get to my destination each day. This also happened to be during the commuting hours when the trains were packed to their gills.

I practiced building a hard insulated bubble around myself so that my instinctual claustrophobia was NOT allowed to overtake me when a stranger's sweaty elbow jabbed into my chest. This bubble took a lot of strength to maintain when every bit of me was fighting against it.

Deep down I wanted to yell and scream and claw my way out of that sardine package, but another part of me felt calm and restful to be a part of this human mush. These stop mo pieces bring those bittersweet memories flooding back to me. And also, the musky smell of a New York City subway tunnel and the rush of warm air that precedes a train's arrival.

I got us on a hiway, I got us in a car
Got us going faster than we've ever gone before
And I know it ain't gonna last
When I see your eyes arrive
they explode like two bugs on glass
- Mercury Rev

In the Stop Motion Studies by David Crawford, the minute twitches and cues that abound in daily interactions are edited together, creating their own language and communication system. These tics – these tiny gestures – are the kinds of things we're socialized to ignore, and yet they are what many people miss in an environment like Second Life, where interactions are smoothed over and these gestures are absent.

It is said that 90% of human communication is non-verbal. In these photographs, the body language of the subjects becomes the basic syntax for a series of animations exploring movement, gesture, and algorithmic montage. Many sequences document a person’s reaction to being photographed by a stranger. Some smile, others snarl, still others perform. Some pretend not to notice. Underneath all of this are assumptions and unknowns unique to each situation. David Crawford about his Stop Motion Studies

Finally, and most apparently, "Stop Motion Studies" affords a unique glimpse into the people who are its subjects -- a window into their souls previously invisible to both film and still photography. Crawford's project is ultimately less about subways and cities and film history and computer software than it is about human souls in space and time. - Curt Cloninger

Yet since the frames are displayed randomly, any sense of continual, linear motion is lost. The trains literally appear to be going nowhere fast. Like Zeno's paradoxical arrow, the trains are perpetually in motion, and yet they never arrive. This underscores the empathy we feel for the passengers who are trapped in a kind of modern purgatory -- an in-between time/space they perfunctorily inhabit on their way from "somewhere" to "somewhere else." Curt Cloninger

Ultimately "Stop Motion Studies" reveals not ideals or grand themes, but individuals. This is both its charm and its melancholy. In every city visited (Boston, New York, Paris, Tokyo) we find characters of distinction, verve, and even nobility; yet they are all going nowhere fast. As these micro-instances unravel before us and we begin to glimpse the wonder and beauty contained within each moment, most of the actual subjects are oblivious to the import of "their own" moments. Curt Cloninger

PS Thanks to Lani for this great link.

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