On Tram Windows
The window provides a liminal yet transparent barrier that bends and translates the light passing through it. The window is a threshold that while nominally a barricade, allows the photographer to project into the ‘personal space’ on the other side of it, where the subject momentarily resides. The same circumstance enacted on the same subject in the open on a city street could elicit many different responses.
Simple observation is ephemeral, the translation of light in the mind does not take physical form. It exists as a sensation that can only be relayed into a further translation. Photographs however, are forever. A photograph is a translation in light that takes physical form and that physically and publicly endures and defines in a way where there is seemingly no recourse or objection possible. Consent is not a precondition of public photography, as there is no physical threshold that exists in a public space although there are thresholds in a sense of social norms, the structured patterning of movement observation or action which is habitually and socially choreographed. The public photograph observes no such structure, the public photograph does not choreograph itself, or regulate itself.
A tram window however, is a real physical object, it is not a socially defined entity, it exists in space, divides space, and defines space. While nominally transparent, a window does act as a physical barrier that itself reflects and bends light. While a protective barrier, a window can also be a psychological barrier. In this sense the other side of the window can be both an extension of public space while in certain circumstances be intimately perceived as a subject’s private space.
The meanings of moments reflected in light are as much up to the viewer as the viewed. However these meanings are influenced, or even created by the very act of observation. What of the photographer as participant observer? What is (in this case his) effect on his immediate environment and on the subject? The window is transparent, the photograph opaque.
Greg Deftereos, 2019 Greg Deftereos is a Melbourne based writer and archaeologist. He is the Co-director of Bronze Age Excavations in Cyprus.