Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
What Kate Seabrook learned from her crazy 13-hour jaunt through Prague's public transit.
Prague's subway stations are architecturally fascinating. Spread along three lines and 37 miles, they'd be fun for any camera-carrying straphanger to document. Kate Seabrook decided to shoot all of them in 13 hours.
Best known around the Internet for Endbahnhof, in which she photographed every U-Bahn station in her home city of Berlin, Seabrook made Prague's subway her next challenge. And this time, she set an impressive time constraint.
In Konečná stance, viewers get a serene, passenger-free view of all but one of Prague's subway stations (Line B's Národní třída was closed for construction that day) as she traveled the system for one day last October.
Debuting as a one line service in 1974, the Prague Metro system expanded to three lines by 1985, with stations added on (and some old names changed) since the end of Communist rule. In design terms, that means a variety of architectural styles from stately marble to colorfully dimpled walls.
We caught up with Seabrook earlier this week by email to talk about her most recent public transit adventure and to figure out exactly how one manages to shoot so many stations so well in a matter of hours:
What makes the Prague Metro interesting to you?
Before visiting Prague to shoot Konečná stanice, I had visited the city just once before. I wanted to know more about how ordinary people live in the city and decided one of the best ways of doing this was to ride the metro to every corner. I was also intrigued by the eye-popping futuristic architecture I had seen in a few photos and to my delight found many more examples of three-dimensional eye candy on the walls of the Prague metro.
What were the major design differences going from Line A to B to C?
My visual knowledge of the Prague Metro was limited to several photos I had seen online of the famous colorful, dimpled stations of the green line (Line A). I decided to shoot that line last because I figured that it would be the most interesting. I was pleasantly surprised that every line turned out to be fascinating in its own way.
Line C was constructed between 1966 and 2008, so the different sections offer a variety of architectural styles. The earlier stations are mostly constructed from marble blocks and are a variation of the same style, then once you get into the '80s built section you get that retro bathroom look, and the modern stations are a nod to pop art while also being very modern (for example, the flashing blue line on the platform as the train approaches). Line B was the most challenging to shoot because of all the highly reflective surfaces.
Were there things you learned from your Berlin project that changed the way you approached Konečná stance?
As a resident of Berlin, with Endbahnhof I had the luxury of time to complete the project. For example, I travelled all the way to Krumme Lanke on the U3 before realising that one of the stations was closed so I returned months later to shoot it. It was purely a personal project and I had no idea that it would become so popular, so when I undertook the project in Prague, capturing the most perfect photograph I could given the time and equipment constraints (no tripod, no flash) became even more vital.
Why one day only for shooting? How did that change your perception of the subway system?
I initially planned to shoot the three metro lines over two days but once I started I got into a rhythm and decided that shooting the whole system in one day would be more satisfying. Not to mention a better story!
It also really put the reliability of the system to the test. Due to poor research on my part, I was expecting trains to arrive every 2-4 minutes during the day. This would put the pressure on getting the winning shot before the next train arrived, but also allow me to comfortably travel to all the metro stations in one day. However, after the morning rush the time between trains was more like 7-10 minutes.
Taking into account a late start and breaks for snacks between lines, it was very tight to get it all done. Fortunately, every train turned up on time with the exception of an anxious 20 minute wait at Malostranská when it was looking as though I might not make it to the last two stations on the green line. The Prague metro displays the minutes elapsed since the last train departed instead of the next arrival, so I just had to cross my fingers and hope more trains would turn up. Luckily, I was able to complete the project just in time for the last train home.
My general perception of the Prague metro was that it was much cleaner, safer and more reliable than I was expecting and not a bad place to spend 13 hours taking photos. And although Národní třída (Line B) was closed for construction at the time of shooting Konečná stanice, I figured that 56 out of 57 stations wasn't bad.
All images courtesy Kate Seabrook.
This interview has been edited and condensed.