Isolation, Harmony and Composition on a Tokyo Subway Platform

Untitled by Peter Corbett

Street photography relies on the photographer instinctively knowing when form and composition elements coalesce with content. Only occasionally do all these elements of space, pattern and uniformity come together to provide something that is perfectly harmonious. When they do, the image becomes unforgettable.

In this photograph, the three individuals on a Tokyo subway form a near perfect compositional narrative. Their isolation is enhanced by the physical distance between them, and the architectural elements of their environment. The vertical column which divides the image off center is reflected in the overall shape of the wall tiles opposite, which in turn serve to reflect the column and further amplify the physical separateness of the individuals. The viewer is also isolated from the full image by the architectural feature in the near right foreground, giving the feeling that there is something dynamic but unknowable happening behind.

However, the reason this image works so well is that compositional harmony both complements and juxtaposes human isolation, with vertical and horizontal lines running throughout. Horizontal floor tiling, the vertical lines on the platform barrier, verticals and horizontals running across the fabric of an individual’s coat, and verticals on the offset column, are the key to this harmony.

Further harmony and contrast are provided in the tension between the fluidity of the individuals, their unified physical downward focus, and the near geometrically perfect triangular space formed between them. The unity of their thought and distraction is another element that brings harmony to the composition. They are all lost in thought as many Tokyo commuters are and they form a small part of the millions who travel the Tokyo subway every day. The story is told not only through composition but also through the anonymity of the figures, the ‘personality’ of Tokyo city, and the way the lens perfectly captures their isolation in their urban environment.

Image by Peter Corbett Words by Vilja Wheatcroft

Untitled by Peter Corbett
Untitled by Peter Corbett