ost of us who rely on the
New York City subway
choose to remain
oblivious while riding the trains:
We bury our heads in a book,
block sound with ear buds and
music and avoid prolonged eye
contact. Videographer Edin Vélez
says he can’t do that. “I find
the faces in the subway too
interesting. I try to figure out
Vélez’s 15-minute video,
“The State of Rest and Motion,”
is the culmination of years of
observing and recording video
in subway stations and on trains.
By collaging footage that he’s
digitally processed to soften
shapes and enhance colors, the
Brooklyn-based artist has created
a dreamy, meditative study of the
subway and its riders. “The State
of Rest and Motion” recently
premiered at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York City
during its Doc Fortnight 2017
festival of nonfiction film.
Vélez says his approach to
digitally altering his video grew
out of his early attempts to
compensate for the technical
limitations of the low-resolution
video cameras he had used at
the start of his career. Vélez,
who directs the video program
at Rutgers University, made
his first video of commuters
streaming down an escalator
in the early 1980s. He had been
making still images even earlier.
Growing up in Puerto Rico,
his father, a graphic designer,
taught him to shoot using a 4x5
camera. “His way of babysitting
me, which I didn’t think was odd
at the time, was to take me to a
darkroom,” Vélez recalls.
After he began working as
a filmmaker and video artist
in New York City, he put still
photography aside, and his video
work was shown in the Whitney
Biennial, Art Basel and museums
such as the Metropolitan
Museum of Art and the Louvre.
In the late 1990s, while shooting
video with mid-level camcorders,
he decided to make frame grabs.
“They were very low res so I
started to digitally repaint them,”
using the fingerpaint tool in
Photoshop. “They became—and
I hate this word—‘painterly.’”
The result was a hybrid, he says.
“It didn’t really look like painting,
“If you took your own sweet time
and did it very carefully, pixel
by pixel, somehow you could
blow [the image] up to any size.”
He mounted a show of the prints
in 2000, as part of his artist-
in-residency with the Lower
Manhattan Cultural Council,
and Stux Gallery exhibited the
work later that year.
After he got his first Sony
Cybershot in 2010 or 2011, he
switched to shooting panoramas
on the subway. By then, he was
using third-party plug-ins for his
retouching. With a busy teaching
schedule and a commute to New
Jersey, he says, “My personal work
suffered,” but he carried his camera
with him wherever he went.
“Anyone in New York who
carries their camera constantly
will find something amazing,”
he says. Reviewing his subway
footage, he realized he had a
subject for a film.
He set himself rules. “I would
only shoot in a station or a car.
I’d never shoot outside,” he says.
He would handhold his camera,
or sit with the camera resting
on his knee while the subway
was moving. His focus, he says,
was usually “the landscape of
the human face.” Vélez insists
that New York City’s subway is
unlike other urban transportation
systems. “It’s only here that
you see an 80-year-old woman
dressed in wonderful colors
sitting right next to a homeless
man. This is the only place
where those juxtapositions
exist in such quantities.”
He has been enterprising
in his pursuit of new footage.
Most modern cars in the subway
system no longer have clear
windows that allow you to peer
ahead through the tunnel. But
one day, when Vélez was loaded
GEAR & TECHNIQUES FRAMES PER SECOND
60 pdnonline.com MAY 2017 For more stories about filmmaking and to see past Frames Per Second, visit pdnonline.com/gear/techniques/video-filmmaking/
ABOVE: While gathering footage for his video piece “The State of Rest and Motion,”
Edin Vélez photographed a subway car in the rain at an open-air station.
BELOW: Edin Vélez (left), his daughter and a fellow subway passenger.
Edin Vélez made his video of the New York City subway
by adapting the post-processing technique he used
on still photos. BY HOLLY STUART HUGHES