Take the A train

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Libby and I were talking about web art and it turns out we both independently happened upon David Crawford’s “Stop Motion Studies” and enjoyed what we saw. (Go to Inliquid or rhizome or better yet cut out the middleman and go to the SMS website where it’s all laid out nicely.) (image is from Stop Motion Studies, Tokyo 2004)

Crawford, a film and web guy who likes subways and the riders who populate them shot sequences in the world’s undergrounds (Paris, Tokyo, New York, Boston, London) with a Canon PowerShot A40, a consumer-grade still camera. He translated his shots via Flash technology into little stutter-step vignettes that last seconds and focus on subtle (or not so subtle) behavior of the subway riders.

What you see is people nodding, twitching, playing with their fingers, blinking, or, my favorite, in vignette thirteen of the series shot in Paris, a man in a fedora reacting not very happily to an accordian player plying his trade on the subway. Even though the studies are all silent, I imagined the sound — and the rocking, side to side sway of the car.

Part of the Stop Motion Series was commissioned by The Whitney Museum’s New Media Artport. For the Whitney, Crawford made a four-panel, interactive piece in which viewers can choose four segments to view simultaneously from what was shot in Paris, London, New York and Boston. I liked the interactivity but didn’t have the time — or the interest — for more than one grid’s worth.

Crawford’s stated objective was to study people’s behaviors and make some universal statement about character. That’s a bold charge and I’m not sure any art project can rise to it. But I found the work comforting for its familiarity, interesting for its motion — and quite beautiful and colorful for a project shot in the subways.

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