"The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough."
—Ezra Pound, "In a Station of the Metro"
Every time I step down the stairs to the subway, it feels like I'm slowly becoming a ghost. Only a specter of myself, one that needs to get somewhere, and to do that, I have to leave a part of myself in the world above ground. When my body goes underground, a spirit takes a hold of me. I blend into the crowd and become a shadow like the many hundreds swarming around me. Their faces and my own merge together into a single entity. We walk at the same pace and we evade each other's gaze. Everyone's trying to build their own little universe inside the worms of steel that run under the city. We all need a little bubble that keeps us safe in this vast ocean of people. We need to find ourselves in the crowd and keep the "I" distant from the "we."
Amidst the thousand blurry faces, we build ourselves a second home. We do it at the station the moment we put on our earphones and start pouring over a book. We do it when we claim its halls as we walk. Nothing is static; energy courses around us and we struggle against the growing wave of humanity that pushes against our inner bubble.
We lose ourselves the crowd, but we also find something in us that we can't feel anywhere else. Often, while being lost in the crowd, we feel lonelier than ever. At some other times we find comfort in the pass of people shifting around us. Sharing a commute may be impersonal, but it is a journey shared by all.
It's a universe filled with contradictions. Love and hatred live side by side, some days you want to lend your hand to strangers in selfless acts of kindness, whereas other days you wish to plunge against the crowd and shove people away with all your might.
To survive in the subway, we have to make a carve a space just for ourselves. Being surrounded by so many unfamiliar faces and shadows is intimidating. We have to conquer this wild loneliness to feel safe with our own thoughts. Once we conquer this space we can float in the comfort of our own inner thoughts.
At last, when we make eye contact with a passerby we remember that we all have somewhere to get to. We see the empathy swirling in their eyes and that split second when you held their gaze, the hectic noise of the wagons fades away. I am a ghost and what little warmth I see comes from the kind gazes of others. It reminds me that we're all flesh and blood.
Francisco Mata Rosas' series Un viaje lucidly portrays the surrealism, pain, chaos, and love that dwells everyday on the underground of Mexico City. He's one of Mexico's leading contemporary photographers since the late eighties, and his work has been presented already in three different continents. You can delve deeper into his work through his official website and follow him on Instagram.
In a sense, experiencing the subway every day is almost a spiritual experience. Compare it to the photographs of the pilgrimage that covers a mountain in white and the photographer who shows how the mundane is beautiful from afar.
Francisco Mata Rosas