The Friday Fillip: Through a Window Slowly

Duncan probably had it right: “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”

It’s where we live — or where we are seen to live — and that’s the point of it, I suppose: communication. All those incredibly numerous and tiny muscles sculpting cheeks and lips, nuancing the skin around the orbits, telling our tales, often whether we like it or no. (The Latin proverb is “Vultus est index animi”: the face is the index of the mind, where “index” means informer or spy.)

This . . . vulnerability may be one of the reasons why in many (most?) societies it is considered impolite to stare, why the gaze is felt to be too contactful at times. So we don’t often have a chance to study frankly the faces of our fellow human beings unless they’re our family members. Which is where photography comes in, for it can indeed quite capture a person’s soul — and leave it bare for our examination. Even better, perhaps, (or worse, depending on your point of view) are moving pictures, because a face frozen in one micro-moment by still photography can say only one thing, and that not very clearly at times, especially if the shot was posed.

I offer you today a kind of compromise: unposed faces — and bodies — filmed in very slow motion. I mean very very slow motion: 1,300 frames per second, which is 54 times the rate used in a normal movie. The artist is Adam Magyar and, among other things, he has filmed crowds waiting for subway trains, filming from inside a train arriving at the station. I’m embedding below an excerpt filmed at Grand Central Station in New York City. He’s also made available excerpts from filming in Tokyo at Shinjuku Station, in Seoul at Sindorim station, and in Berlin at Alexanderplatz Station. (For a rather different look at the faces and people of New York’s subway, you might want to go to Vintage Everyday, where you can find fifty subway photographs from 1980.)


  1. Beneath the glamour and lights appears a subterranean world where with a few exceptions lies loneliness and aloneness — how very revealing.