Many Are Called
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2004 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
All right reserved.ISBN: 0-300-10617-3
THESE PHOTOGRAPHS WERE MADE IN THE SUBWAY OF NEW YORK CITY, during the late thirties and early forties of the twentieth century. The effort, always, has been to keep those who were being photographed as unaware of the camera as possible. To anyone who understands what a photograph can contain, not even that information is necessary, and any further words can only vitiate the record itself. Because so few people do understand what a photograph can contain, and because, of these, many might learn, a little more will, reluctantly, be risked.
Those who use the New York subways are several millions. The facts about them are so commonplace that they have become almost as meaningless, as impossible to realize, as death in war. These facts-who they are, and the particular thing that happens to them in a subway-need brief reviewing, and careful meditation.
They are members of every race and nation of the earth. They are of all ages, of all temperaments, of all classes, of almost every imaginable occupation. Each is incorporate in such an intense and various concentration of human beings as the world has never known before. Each, also, is an individual existence, as matchless as a thumbprint or a snowflake. Each wears garments which of themselves are exquisitely subtle uniforms and badges of their being. Each carries in the postures of his body, in his hands, in his face, in the eyes, the signatures of a time and a place in the world upon a creature for whom the name immortal soul is one mild and vulgar metaphor.
The simplest or the strongest of these beings has been so designed upon by his experience that he has a wound and nakedness to conceal, and guards and disguises by which he conceals it. Scarcely ever, in the whole of his living, are these guards down. Before every other human being, in no matter what intimate trust, in no matter what apathy, something of the mask is there; before every mirror it is hard at work, saving the creature who cringes behind it from the sight which might destroy it. Only in sleep (and not fully there), or only in certain waking moments of suspension, of quiet, of solitude, are these guards down; and these moments are only rarely to be seen by the person himself, or by any other human being. At the ending of City Lights, that was precisely what Chaplin was using, and doing. In that long moment in which, gently gnashing apart the petals of his flower, his soul, his offering, he perceives, in the scarcely pitying horror of the blind girl to whom he has given sight, himself as he is, he has made full and terrific use of this fact. But it has almost never been used in art; and it is almost never seen in life.
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 1940