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PRIVATE Photographers

Christophe Agou | Life Below

Christophe Agou (Life Below), PRIVATE 40, p. 36-39

Buy/Gift PRIVATE 40 [F]rom 1998 until 2000, the underground world of the New York City subway became a stage for chance rendezvous with commuters from all walks of life – ordinary and mysterious. The sense of enclosure below ground was sometimes oppressive, but I loved feeling the pulse beneath the city, letting my eye intuitively discover the reality under the surface. I had no destinations or expectations in mind. Each time I went below, it was with my heart. At the end of the day, I would place in sequence these moments of hidden truth, like connected frames in a film. I would imagine once more the silent dialogues between anonymous riders traveling through the maze of tunnels that create the life below – a life of uncanny beauty that intimately met my eye. I felt at ease and inspired by the common humanity.

I found a certain truth and I believed that I could go on photographing in this confined world with no sky all my life. One day, on a hot afternoon in August 2000, after weeks of editing hundreds of my subway images, I found myself at the 42nd Street platform at rush hour. It was a Friday and Times Square was silent. “Do Not Cross” yellow tapes had been placed all around the station. I was able to duck underneath and found myself standing on the opposite platform, looking down at a man lying on the subway tracks. I was speechless. Never before in my life had I experienced a meeting with death. I could see clearly from where I was but I did not photograph. For me the camera is an instrument to record living dreams. Over the next few days the dramatic image of the man stuck with me. I went back a week later, hoping to find some closure, a note, some flowers or simply someone who knew something about the man who killed himself. On the same subway platform I approached an MTA employee whom, at my inquiry regarding the tragedy, said, “What do you care? It doesn’t concern you, it happens more than you think!” My heart sank. A chapter of my life had suddenly closed. I never felt the desire to life below ever again.

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