Between Then and Again: Peter Funch’s “42nd and Vanderbilt”

 Peter Funch,  2012.07.03 09:09:07 / 2012.07.17 09:09:43

Peter Funch, 2012.07.03 09:09:07 / 2012.07.17 09:09:43

What to make of this collection of images taken over nine years at the same intersection in New York City, comparing individuals (separated from the crowd) walking by on different days? 

In his New York Times review, Teju Cole's reference to Walker Evans is helpful, but his famous and groundbreaking subway portraits are much more surreptitious. Evans wasn't as interested in the ritual or the remembering of a particular yet insignificant intersection of time and space but rather sought the truth that photography alone seemed to be able to conjure: the unguarded, unrehearsed version of a person that emerges within the presumed anonymity of public spaces in large cities.

Likely Funch wants us to be impressed by the discipline of nine years going at something, and the unique fruits of that particular labor, and for the most part I'd say we are. Time, that much of it, gives the project weight and a lens through which to look at difference, perhaps the best way to recognize (and predict) patterns1. But as with any project, “42nd and Vanderbilt“2 is also very much the result of curation. How many shots didn't make the cut? How many days did his commuters not turn the right corner? These images, and the moments they point to, are no longer unremarkable or transitory, as a natural consequence of their choosing. In this light, Douglas Coupland's mention of Warhol makes sense, given his exploration of (the paradoxes of) unedited phenomenon.

To my eye, it seems Funch is trying to paint the routines and mundane patterns of everyday life here in the most flattering light possible. Unlike Coupland, I’m not as preoccupied with the limited wardrobes these images betray. Nor am I as struck by the “remembering” the project evokes for Cole, perhaps because New York is not my home.

Rather, these images, despite their careful curation, composition, and exposure, function in a much more abstract and less personal or sentimental way for me. The isolation of these subjects in terms of framing, focus, and lighting, within a context (a street corner in New York!) that is anything but isolated, pushes my attention more to the blurry bits in the background where others (often partially) enter the frame. Those stories, and the potential intersections and geometry they represent (through happenstance or otherwise), pique my interest as much as the day to day differences and similarities Funch seeks to reveal.

  1. Though it is worth noting intervals between photos of a given subject, at least for those I’ve been able to see online, typically span days or weeks not years. Perhaps the full collection goes further. As well, likely for practical reasons, most if not all exposures occur between May and August. ↩︎
  2. I haven’t done the research to discover if there is a significance to this particular intersection, other than its proximity to Grand Central Station, and therefore the increased chance of spotting commuters coming and going. ↩︎