I’ve been meaning to mention this book now for a couple of weeks and finally I’m getting around to it. Many Are Called is a collection of photos taken by Walker Evans from 1938-1941. His goal was to capture people in as natural a state as possible by sitting on the New York Subway with a camera hidden inside his jacket shooting the actual pictures through the small button hole at the end of his sleeve. The pictures, shot entirely in black and white, are just incredible. None of the subjects are aware that they are having their picture taken (more on this later), which lends itself to stunning realism. Nobody is posing for photographs, instead their faces are preoccupied with the private thoughts of everyday life.
Paging through, I realized that this book is timeless for many reasons. One, these pictures were virtually shot on the same lines and through the same long, dark tunnels of the New York underground which we see today. The expressions on these people’s faces are no different than the ones I notice today when I go underground. It’s just different cloth draped over their bodies and a newer generation of humans. The subway has always been one of my favorite places, not because it’s fun or anything, but because being underground, hurtling through stops and tunnels, somehow brings out a silent honesty in people’s faces. The sociologist in me savors that.
This book is not without controversy, though. My gut tells me that Evans must have gotten some pictures that would be questionable to publish and as much as releasing those pictures in Many Are Called might have spurred sales, he probably opted not to go that route out of fear and/or respect. I’m not entirely sure how I would feel being photographed so closely without my knowledge. I believe, though, that if people had known they were being photographed, it would have dramatically changed the scope of the project to the point where it just probably wouldn’t have been done and it definitely wouldn’t have been photographic art, in my eyes. Either way, if you’re at all into photography, I consider this book a must-have and as a final recommendation, I encourage strongly to not pick your nose on the subway.
A lot of people have asked me where the name RustedRobot comes from. I usually answer with a short “it just kinda came to me,” but I’m going to tell you today that the statement is only partially true. It did just come to me, but there is a foundation behind it and I don’t think it’s that hard to figure out. Brownie points to the person who can guess correctly.