42nd and Vanderbilt


The Ebbs and Flows of an Urban Existence

The same as it ever was… Our urban lives may move at an increasingly relentless pace, but does anything ever really change? And in a sea of busy urbanites, flooding the city every day, can we find small, hidden moments of humanity and poetry? What’s the value of a gesture? Those are just a few of the questions posed in Peter Funch’s (judge for our ‘URBAN LIFE’ theme) ambitious, gargantuan work ‘42nd and Vanderbilt’.

From 2007 to 2016, he stood at the same southern corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in New York City between 8:30am and 9:30am, capturing commuters as they streamed out of Grand Central Station. In an act of quiet surveillance he began to pair images – some from days apart, some from many years – of the same commuters, highlighting the repetition in their rituals, clothing choices and movements. The act of capturing needles in the haystack of daily life.

Does his work call to mind Groundhog Day, and the industrialization of the working cycle as a result of capitalism? Does it comment on how we package ourselves for the outside world? Or highlight a relatable comfort in routine? What judgement systems do we as a viewer hold that inform our analysis of the diptychs? The magic of Funch’s social study is to connect these passing moments of time to one another, and let you do the rest. It’s undoubtedly invasive, but done with compassion and warmth. And though at one level each commuter may be a creature of habit, the patterns and repetitions undeniable, at another level the series emphasizes the huge diversity, person to person, of the city dwellers that inhabit New York.

What’s clear, is that in almost every image the subject moves in a sort of trance – there but not there. Urban life looks bizarre when viewed through a lens of focused presence.

The same as it ever was…