I have mixed feelings about what I think of as “collection” photography–when a photographer goes out and takes 100 photos of grain silos and then exhibits them all together in a giant grid. It sometimes feels like the thing that’s most interesting about the project is the idea, and the individual photographs are just a means to an end.
Collection photography works best when there’s more to it than the concept. Bill Sullivan, who I came across for the first time this morning via kottke.org, is a good example of collection done right. Collecting isn’t the only thing he has going on. Sullivan takes multiple photos of people passing through a particular place. For example, people having their portraits drawn while sitting on a bench in Times Square, people stopping on a certain floor in an elevator, or as in this series here, people passing through turnstiles in the subway. You can read more about his philosphy here, but this line caught my eye in particular: “I wanted the situation to take a photograph of itself for me.”
His collection of turnstile photographs is interesting as a group, but you can also fall into each individual photograph on its own. The unposed expressions on the subjects’ faces and the physical burdens they carry are uncannily revealing. Sullivan takes these photos surreptitiously–I’d be curious to know his particular technique.