People have been making street photographs ever since photographic technology became fast enough to create them. Roberto Bocci’s exhibit “Metrorail” at the Heurich Gallery tweaks this venerable pursuit by focusing as much on the infrastructural settings as the people.
Bocci, an associate professor of digital media and photography at Georgetown University, makes both photographs and videos of Washington’s Metro system. His stills are distinctly horizontal, wide-angle photographs documenting largely empty rail platforms. New Carrollton is seen in a gloriously rain-slicked nocturne; Rosslyn comes off as so shadowy that you half-expect Frank Underwood to be lurking behind the nearest pillar.
One view of the Gallery Place/Chinatown station offers a six-part repetition of a woman climbing an escalator, each frame capturing a different point in her stride, as if it were a stretch of raw cinema film. And Bocci’s image of the Pentagon Metro stop (top) impressively offers a 180-degree view down the tracks in both directions.
The stills are moodily expressive, but they necessarily pale compared to the video, which features pedestrians moving into and out of Metro stations. Bocci’s stop-motion, fuzzy-focused approach produces lots of slow pans and zooming headlights, backed by ambient sound.
Parts of the video are derivative of Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, particularly the sped-up scenes of commuters being spit out of escalators. More inspired is footage of escalator riders being shot from directly overhead, producing unexpectedly ghostly figures who are far more intriguing than the average rider you see on the way to work. Most memorably, the camera lingers on a dark-haired woman in a trench coat leaning against a lamppost, an oddly (if welcome) touch of the French New Wave.
Bocci’s photographs sometimes verge on corporate PR, and his video footage sometimes seems like glorified second-unit establishing shots from a TV show. Still, he offers enough arty touches to elevate his work beyond the mere pedestrian.
Through Dec. 2 at the Heurich Gallery, 505 Ninth St. NW, Washington, D.C. Mon-Fri 8-7, Sat 9-4.