Going to work isn’t that much like a gallery opening. Yet the RATP, who handle public transport in Paris, spend a lot of money bringing art to their captive audience. Now, they’ve joined up with the legendary Magnum agency to bring Parisians a summer photo special.
The only requirement to see it is taking a train – the work is on show in seventeen stations of the métro and RER (Regional Express Network).
This exposition kicked off with an opening at the Magnum gallery. But the real display is aimed at travellers, tourists and commuters. All of them have free access to 300 images by the Russian photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov.
All these pieces were commissioned by the transport agency as part of a new emphasis on the photo as art. (This began in 2013 at the PhotoQuai Biennial and it continued with last spring’s Circulation(s) festival). This time the theme being investigated is ‘urban mobility’.
A naturalised French citizen, Pinkhassov lives in Paris. Before that, however, he trained as a cameraman at the VGIK film school in Moscow. His first job was at Mosfilm (Russia’s famous state-funded studio). There he ran across a legend, movie director Andreï Tarkovsky. “For me,” says Pinkhassov, “his film Solaris altered everything. It made me re-evaluate my first approaches to imagery”.
In ’79, Tarkovsky made him a photographer on the set of Stalker. “Doing that, I started to know him. Of course, we talked a lot about photography and this ended up actually changing my path. For instance, I learned his favourite artist was Henri Cartier-Bresson. All those things made me into a photojournalist. Through that choice, I entered a whole new world.”
In 1988, Pinkhassov became a member of Magnum.
The RATP does not confine its work to Paris. They also deal with buses, métros, trains and tramlines on other continents. So they sent Pinkhassov around five cities where they are active: Paris, but also London, Florence, Casablanca and Seoul.
The only brief they gave him was to have a look at urban movement.
“I found it very curious”, says the photographer. “Because, in these ordinary ways, extraordinary things happen. At every station, at every stop. To me, also, this kind of scenery is like a stroboscope. Everything about it is always constantly changing.”
The same shots have been re-posted all across Paris. This way, even the daily commute gives someone a good idea of the bigger project’s flavour.
Although they are giant, Pinkhassov’s shots are surprisingly intimate. They capture the rush and pressures common to city life – as well as its need for speed and the grind of its daily displacements.
But what they really enshrine are the small moments of poetry every commuter knows about. It’s through these we recognise our links to travellers around the globe.
The 300 pictures offer a jigsaw of places and people in motion. All are either off to work or on their way to play. Yet, as Pinkhassov deftly shows, they’re also moving towards one another.
• The Magnum Photo Gallery is located at 13, rue de l’Abbaye 75006.