Each week we’ll feature one photographer from the PhotoShelter community, and share his or her story behind the shots that caught our eye.
Michael Hintlian’s series, “No Transfer: Photographs from Public Transportation,” was created out of the frustration while shooting the streets of Boston, a place he describes as “a difficult city to work in.” From an early age Michael has been inspired by the great documentary photographers Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand. They, along with his professors at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, helped shape his approach to photography, which for Michael is all about capturing the “candid moment.” This series, all taken from the windows of public transportation, is what Michael calls “a simple extension” of that approach.
Originally, Michael wanted to simply create a series that explored the change of scenery and landscape during a single bus or train ride. “I wanted to see if the changing landscape could be rendered in camera – from affluent areas to the opposite side of the spectrum for example. It was a problem I wanted to explore,” he says. But once he began shooting, a bigger idea came out. “The whole notion of doing some kind of social project went out the window – pun intended – and a completely different and far more interesting project was born.”
Michael realized the project was going in the right direction the moment he started shooting. Within his first few attempts, he captured the shot above: “I loved the idea of responding to the visual impulse before my head began to ‘compose’ the picture.” This new way of shooting was a fresh approach that served as Michael’s solution to shooting the otherwise difficult Boston.
When riding public transportation, Michael’s destination is always the pictures: “I buy a monthly bus pass and spend days going from one end of a particular route to the other and back again. Then I change buses and do the same thing. I’ll take as many as 8 routes in a day looking for pictures. And there are some days I am actually going somewhere (I’m smiling here) but making photographs is still the important part of the trip.”
Getting the right seat on the bus is critical so that he gets the right view from a spot at the window. “Sometimes the windows need to be cleaned, so I have stacks of Starbucks or McDonalds napkins that I use to wipe the glass if it’s really gross. And sometimes the circle of grease left by someone who took a nap with their head against the glass makes an interesting soft focus effect – so I’m not cleaning every time.”
Michael is currently serving as head of the Documentary Photography department at the New England School of Photography in Boston. His work has been published in multiple newspapers, as well as his published body of work “Digging: The Workers of Boston’s Big Dig.”
What caught our eye:
Michael’s own restrictive working conditions makes for a unique outlook on the city and surrounding areas of Boston. With so many photographers currently creating art from Google’s Street View, it’s an appropriate time to visit Michael’s work. Rather then scouring the computer screen, he rides the streets using his instinct and impulse to actively create the photograph rather then simply choose it. That extra layer – the glass between him and the subject – is usually apparent, reflecting the bus’ lights or bouncing Michael’s own reflection back. That, combined with the motion blur serves as a reminder that his interaction with the subject is simply what is seen in the photo – removed and quick, a fleeting moment.
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