How did I get my pictures from the New York Subway into the hands of a museum curator in just six months? Would you believe me if I told you it was totally by accident and with a small portfolio?
Last September I was studying photography at the New York Film Academy where I had to shoot a documentary series. My daily commute became a source of inspiration as I traveled up and down, East to West to capture the Subway Solitude in New York. Down in the Subway you keep to yourself. An urban jungle by itself, but armed with your headphones or a book, you can shut out even the loudest distractions.
Sometimes I took covert pictures up close and personal. Other times I kept my distance and took in the entire platform with only people breaking the pattern.
Some pictures are amusing and some may break your heart. Stealing glances, totally focused on a phone or the lonely man looking right through me without seeing anything. Waiting for a train or perhaps another life?
As I was taking pictures the underlying backstory also started to unfold. You never know when inspiration hits, so when it did one night, I was quick to write down the words as they were flowing out of my brain. Standing in a corner of the 86th Street Subway station, smiling because of this unexpected yet welcome blast of inspiration, an older man comes up to me and pleads to put my phone down. “Tell that guy you’re texting with to come here. A beautiful girl like you shouldn’t wait for a schmuck. If I were 20 years younger I would not let you stand here.” And just like that he blew my theory right out of the water. I guess you need to be 35 years older (let’s just say the man was being optimistic) to blast through the solitary bubbles of headphones and WhatsApp in modern society.
After I got back from New York many people asked quickly: “So…now that you’re back. What are you going to do next?” To tell you the truth, I didn’t think that far ahead. At times I was caught a little off guard by this question. People wanted to see my work, but I didn’t know the first thing about building a professional portfolio. I did, however, have a lot of interesting pictures from the Subway series that i hadn’t shown yet. By revisiting the material , I was happily surprised by the variety and unexpected moments I caught on camera. This could be something. I used Blurb and BookWright software to make a twenty page magazine from my Subway Solitude series. Portraits underground that also had a street and urban vibe to them. Making the portfolio actually turned out to be the easy part.
Showing my portfolio to other people was the hard part. My friends and family are a great help and they give a lot of useful feedback, but in the end they are just a little obligated to like my pictures. This portfolio had to be shown to other people as well. Starting with one of my teachers from the New York Film Academy: Vivien Allender. She’s not easily impressed, so when she gave me some pointers, but an all over thumbs up, I was ready to explore further.
The real accidental surprise came a month later. I was having lunch with a friend at the Fotomuseum Den Haag, when we turned out be sitting next to the museum photography curator. My friend knows him and kicked me under the table. “Give me your portfolio. NOW!” as she flashed my portfolio in front of his nose. I turned bright white and red at the same time. A major opportunity, but in no way was I ready for this one. He didn’t spare me either. He was brutally honest about my work and pushed me to do the same. He told me to become much more critical about my work. And maybe take a year off and live in the Subway like a real starving artist. If only…
Dare to dream
I would love to tell you I was excited after this fantastic opportunity to show my portfolio to a real successful museum curator, I was more shocked and intimidated. Even though he really loved the picture of the four women sitting in the Subway train, I needed to catch my breath before I was ready to share my portfolio with anyone else. Did I make you curious? Good 🙂 Because you can actually buy my portfolio now in the Blurb ebook store and iBook store! The earnings I plan to invest in more awesome pictures. The point of the story? Dare to dream and maybe I’ll make it to a museum just yet.