Humans are creatures of habit or so goes the saying. Danish photographer Peter Funch went a long way in proving this statement true. For nine years, Funch parked himself on the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt, just outside New York’s Grand Central Terminal taking photographs of the morning rituals of commuters he saw to and fro work. He presented his experience and photographs while doing this in his new book 42nd and Vanderbilt, a book published by TBW Books.
From 2007-2016, Funch stood on the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in New York City between 8:30 am and 9:30 am and photographed the people that emerged from the depths of the station. In the course of his editing process, he began to pick out characters he had captured again and again over the years. He somehow captured these subjects doing the same rituals for days, weeks or even years apart. One man takes a drag from a cigarette at the same moment; one lady wearing earbuds almost oblivious to everything else; some nursing coffees; one man spits into the same trash can on the corner for different days; others are wearing different clothes but eerily strike the same facial expressions every other day.
The idea for this project came to Funch while working on another project Bable Tales- where images were taken outside of the Grand Central Station which is incredibly busy during rush hour. It was in this chaos that Funch thought it would be nice to find the regulars in the chaos. Sticking to a specific location and timeframe allowed Funch hone in on a specific day to day of this street corner. According to Funch, “don’t see this as a restricted process, but more a very simplified way of documenting a ritual.” “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 become obvious.”
42nd and Vanderbilt is a social study laced with curiosity, small narratives and poetic moments. “The flow of the book is like a monologue of sentences – some short and some longer,” says Funch. “It is my point of view as documentarist, voyeur, and flaneur.” You would never believe how long people stick with the same ritual, some over ten years as Funch reported, doing the same thing over and over again.
It seems a bit creepy, the idea of doing the same thing over and over again and sometimes you may wonder, when do we break from our habits or more appropriately, leave our trance…when we sit at our desks? When we check our emails? When we eat lunch or when we get home?
Maybe we never leave our trance?