From 2007 to 2016, Danish photographer Peter Funch stood at the southern corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in New York City between 8:30am and 9:30am taking photographs of the commuters he saw. “The idea started when I was working on another project Babel Tales – some of the images were taken outside Grand Central Station, which is incredible busy during rush hour. People come out of the station in masses, thousand of them each with their own destination,” explains Peter. “The idea of finding the regulars in this chaos came up – then much later in the process finding their behaviours and rituals in their commute from a to b.”
Peter has presented the series in a book of diptychs published by TBW Books this month, placing pairs of images together of the same commuters he sees, highlighting the rituals repeated each morning, whether it’s similar outfit choices, smoking, drinking coffee or weirdly looking in a bin each morning. Sticking to such a specific location and time frame, it allowed Peter to hone in on the specific day-to-day of this street corner. “I don’t see this as a restricted process, but more a very simplified way of documenting a ritual,” the photographer says. “The idea is that it’s easier to compare two images than it is ten, and at the same time how much we can read into two images instead of one. Time and repetition becomes obvious.”
To focus the project even more, Peter was only interested in the finding the regulars and then seeing the differences and details between them. “For instance, one drinking an iced coffee, but how much coffee has been drunk? Is there a napkin round the plastic cup? Where has it been bought?” asks Peter. Using a semi-long lens provided a distance between the photographer and his unknowing subjects and being in New York meant people are “usually quite nice about being photographed as long as you don’t ask or demand anything from them.”
42nd and Vanderbilt is a social study, full of “small narratives and poetic moments” laced with curiosity. “The flow of the book is like a monologue of sentences – some short and some longer,” says Peter. “It is my point of view as documentarist, voyeur and flaneur.”
About the Author
Rebecca became staff writer at It’s Nice That in March 2016 before leaving the company at the end of 2017. Before joining the company full time she worked with us on a freelance basis many times, as well as stints at Macmillan Publishers, D&AD, Dazed and frieze.