Passenger #2, 1995, by John Schabel
I’m a big fan of John Shabel’s series, Passengers. Over several years, Shabel shot thousands of grainy photographs of airplane passengers from which he selected fifteen images. Along with photographing at night (in order to see inside the plane), Shabel liked to shoot while it rained because it meant the planes were more likely to be delayed on the tarmac. This mix of rain, darkness and grain gives the pictures an especially somber mood.
I think of the “Passenger” photographs as portraits. They’re different from portraits in that the person being photographed is unaware. The passenger is unaware and locked inside an airplane, and the photographer is maybe a hundred yards away in the dark — and possibly under surveillance himself — but even so, the images tend to feel kind of intimate in that situation. I mean, that’s what was fascinating to me about that situation with the person locked inside an airplane. There’s no interaction. They’re unaware they’re being photographed, and I was very far away, maybe a hundred yards in the dark with this long lens and very nervous about someone watching me, and it was a very tense situation. Even so, the images would feel very quiet, and almost intimate.