Documenting Documenting by Woodruff Laputka




It’s interesting to me, the fascination with other people and other lives, that can compel a whole community of creative thinkers to give their time to capture a world of metal, wheels, and schedules. The way that public transit moves back and forth, day in and day out, an infinite revolution of early and late, of purpose and direction and going.

Public transit seems simple, practical and yet unfortunately dismissed by quite a large population that has a fixation for driving everywhere. We leave it at the bottom of our perspectives, as something of an eyesore, a mode in which people who can’t take care of themselves use to get around or to simply hang around, with little else going for them at all.

Seems like a good thing to document, doesn’t it? Depends on what you’re documenting. In my experience with the TrIP project, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who, through either conversation or physical proximity, I realized were somehow not in a place considered status-quo. We use a silent language to purvey ourselves, even with the nicest suits and shiniest shoes. We exude our standards of perception and transmit situations, some more terrible than others and some nothing but a whisper. Some of us have eyes sharper than others, and others simply choose not to notice. But the situations are still there.

In this case, whether the passengers are missing teeth, reeking of urine or asking for a “couple bucks” or “sandwich money,” the truth comes out pretty quick. Is this the population that we so eagerly document? Of course it is. Is this the only population of public transit to document? Of course not. Is one population separate at all from another that simply uses public transportation to get to and from work every day, or to and from an event? Or to and from anywhere that, in the process, can help relieve their carbon footprint?

Once the riders are aboard, they look awfully similar to each other. Strip their bodies away, look into their eyes, and suddenly what you see are faces, lives, people, a world empty of statistics, of money, of pasts or futures. You see fear, hope, love, confusion, pain. You don’t fixate on their situation—whether they need food, water, shelter. You don’t preach the gospel of their relief, or the damnation of their sins. You simply look at them. And that’s fascinating.

To document this world, to me, is quite a responsibility. Even if the documentarian doesn’t think it is and just wants to get shots of people riding on the bus, or waiting for the bus, or talking about waiting for the bus they want to ride, he needs a set of balls to walk into this world of public transportation with a camera. Documenting smacks up against the grain of stereotypes and, in so doing, pushes to understand, in this case, the demand of humanity to move, without immediate draw back of apprehension, and without different passenger motivations. You tear down a barrier, so to speak, and expose public transit for what it really is: a common need.


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