It all started with the girl on the Montreal Metro. Her Keffiyeh scarf was loosely wrapped around her neck, the book in her hands held like a sacred object, her eyes locked in total concentration.
Snap, a photo was taken. Melanie Frances, an advertising researcher based in Montreal, took the photo a year ago riding the subway to work. The girl with the scarf continued reading her book, unaware she had served as a muse.
From that one photo, Frances decided to start a series on people reading on the subway — it had to be a “real book.” Kindles, e-readers and iPads didn’t count. She wanted people lost in a world of paper, in a private bubble, ignoring the rush hour hubbub of subway life.
“Every day, my daily commute became an exciting visual hunt for innocent victims,” Frances said in an e-mail conversation.
Frances downloaded the photo editing app Instagram on her phone, which allowed her to edit photos with a variety of filters and share them with hundreds of users. She signed up with the pseduonym Audrey Yorke, a combination of Audrey Horne, her favorite character on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. There her photos began to attract attention, gaining over 800 followers; and in four months, she had a gallery of 75 Subway Readers.
Her first subject, the girl with the scarf, was tagged as Subway Reader No. 1. Then there was Subway Reader No. 2, a girl whose hair covered half her face like a veil, her eyes fixed on an out-of-frame book. Each photo has a slightly different take. Subway Reader No. 14’s white dress contrasts with the underground station’s red wall. Subway Reader No. 35 can only be seen in the reflection on the car’s window at high speed.
It’s a type of constructive dissonance. Frances embraces the technology of Instagram and her iPhone to bring her subjects to life, while reverentially paying tribute to the simple and traditional practice of reading a book.