Commuter Portraits of the Day: Beijing Metro Riders in GIFs

They capture the spirit of transit in a way no photo could.

Most GIFs immortalize an iconic moment -- an eye-roll, a grin, a sip from a water bottle -- in a compact and easily shareable box of repeating footage. But in the hands of Chinese filmmaker Kit Chung, they capture what would appear to be pure banality: the faces of people on the Beijing Metro.

In GIF form, Chung's work takes up the thread of earlier commute photographers like Walker Evans and Bruce Davidson, and pulls the subway face into the digital age. In these short, mesmerizing clips, he shows the pensive silence and closed expressions of dozens of busy commuters.

The clips are segments of a longer video Chung has filmed, "Line 2," which examines the weariness, anxiety, hope, and calm in expressions of travelers.

"From their facial expressions," Chung told the Creators Project, "I was able to see and describe the mood of the cities outside of my own perception." Trapped in moving portraits, these people "exist in the train forever."

All GIFs courtesy of Kit Chung.

HT Creators Project.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.