Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

A photographer reveals how the ordinary can be surprisingly beautiful

May 18, 2018 at 6:00 AM

People cross K Street NW during the fading light of winter that had many workers going to and from work in the dark.  The commute in the Washington, D.C., area is routinely ranked as one of the longest and most challenging  in the United States. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
An officer keeps traffic moving at the intersection of K and 14th streets NW in the District. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)

Washington, a lively American metropolis, has a daily commute that is consistently ranked among the most challenging in the country. Washington Post staff photographer Matt McClain was drawn to this sometimes-lonely and trying ritual because of his love for finding beauty in the ordinary.  “I wanted to create a mood with this essay born on light and color,” McClain said.  For nearly a year, he monitored the light and the weather, choosing afternoons with rich, dramatic skies or ominous clouds, or even pouring rain, to photograph D.C. commuters. He returned over and over again to the same spots to get just the right composition or to find precisely the perfect light. Longtime television anchor Dan Rather once said, “Americans will put up with anything as long as it doesn’t block traffic.”

A driver smokes while waiting in traffic on the Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown on an overcast day. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
Pedestrians on 13th Street NW. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
Drivers wait at a stop light in warm afternoon light. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
Cellphones light commuters’ faces as their bus picked up additional passengers. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
Late afternoon light illuminates a woman as she rides the escalator down at Farragut North Metro station. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
Pedestrians create long shadows on the sidewalk. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
The silhouette of a man in a hat waiting at a crosswalk. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
Drivers navigate the rain during an evening commute. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
A bicyclist caught in the light cascading between buildings. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)
A woman approaches the escalators at the Federal Triangle Metro Station (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/)

More on In Sight: 

Mesmerized by Elvis: 40 years later his fans and his fanatics

Portraits of the ‘fading American dream’

‘My life is at risk’: Voices from the caravan

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

MaryAnne Golon is the Director of Photography at The Washington Post. Before joining The Post in 2012, MaryAnne was the director of photography at Time Magazine and a senior photography editor there for more than 20 years. She graduated with honors from The University of Florida with a B.S. in Journalism.

Matt McClain is a staff photojournalist at The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, he was a staff photographer at the Ventura County Star in Ventura, Calif., and the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

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