By Mason Johnson
At first I was indignant about the utter lack of privacy Public Portraits—a tumblr blog that displays photos of strangers on the L—provides. I mean, how dare this stranger invade the comfort bubbles of hundreds–if not thousands–of Chicagoans.
That indignation soon disappeared though. It was replaced by a new indignation caused by the utter lack of photos of ME. I ride the CTA constantly and find it improbable that the creepy proprietor of this blog hasn’t run into me yet. Is my face not good enough for your tumblr, creep?
My narcissism aside, we have to ask ourselves if this is okay. (Or do we? I don’t know, but I’m going to!)
Yes, we like looking at the pictures. We love looking at the pictures! But we dread the possibility that we might be in there somewhere. We don’t want to see a photo of our dumb face, our mouth gaping open, our eyes blank, as we sit in a dirty seat. We DO want to see that exact expression on the faces of our enemies, or even just our acquaintances.
Why do we hate the people we know?
These pictures are, I think, about fate. We like the idea that others can be fated to fail, while we are smart enough to shrug fate off and to success through our own, determined will power.
Here’s how we want fate to work:
The Couple Picture
You want other people to look miserable. You want to see that girl you hate (the one who lives above you and makes too much damn noise) sitting on the train miserably with her boyfriend. You want her to be looking one way, unhappy, her boyfriend looking the other, with a noticeable gap between them, a coldness that represents their relationship.
You want you and your girlfriend to look happy. Sure, it’s unfortunate a stranger took a picture of you, but you guys are such a great pair that the hard work you put into the relationship shows up in your smiles, even as you ride the train. Your arms are interwoven as you hold each other’s hands. You don’t look away from each other, but into each other’s eyes. You are perfect.
The Morning Commute
You want other people to be disheveled. Maybe they were stupid enough to go out the night before, or maybe they woke up late, or maybe all of the above, regardless, you want them to look like they just rolled out of bed. Their hair is a mess, they’re wearing sunglasses, and their head is slumped against the window.
You are meticulously dressed though. You’re on your way to work and your wardrobe is the perfect mix of stylish and professional. You look alert and awake. You look like you’re gonna conquer your damn day. Watch out world! So and so is on the loose.
They’re all over the train, but you know how to handle them. You’re obviously standing a healthy distance away, but you don’t look like you’re avoiding them. You’re not making eye contact with the screaming homeless man, but yet you’re somehow sympathetic – it’s not like you’re laughing at him. You understand the sorrow that goes into Chicago’s homeless population, the unfortunate stories of financial ruin and mental illness. You are a loving soul.
You want other people get hit with an orange construction cone—how’d that get on the train?—by a homeless man who spent most of the ride mumbling gibberish. It’s because other people are not as compassionate as you, because they made the mistake of looking the poor, broken soul in the eyes, and didn’t understand the complexities of pain and strife. And now they’re getting hit by a traffic cone.
Other people are so stupid.
There are countless situations you can find yourself in on the L. I sincerely hope you’re ready for them in case someone wants to take a picture. Ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal. We know we’re out in public anyways, so what’s it matter if someone snaps a possibly embarrassing photo of us as we check out someone’s butt? This won’t change what our friends think of us. In fact, it’ll probably just lead to a good laugh. It’s nice to laugh.
Ultimately, I like these pictures. It’s nice to see people in their natural environment. To catch those moments you want to stare at in public but can’t. The moments that prove we’re human. We want to stare at them, frozen in time, without the fear of the subjects noticing, looking at us, and making it abundantly clear we’ve ruined the moment.
That’s not too wrong, is it?
Read more of Mason Johnson’s article about Chicago on the internet here!
Mason Johnson, CBS Chicago