It was hard for me to approach even a little old lady. There’s a barrier between people riding the subway — eyes are averted, a wall is set up. To break through this painful tension I had to act quickly, on impulse, for if I hesitated, my subject might get off at the next station and be lost forever. I dealt with this in several ways. Often I would just approach the person: “Excuse me. I’m doing a book on the subway and would like to take a photograph of you. I’ll send you a print.”
If they hesitated, I would pull out my portfolio and show them my subway work; if they said no, it was no forever. Sometimes, I’d take the picture, then apologize, explaining that the mood was so stunning I couldn’t break it, and hoped they didn’t mind. There were times I would take the picture without saying anything at all. But even with this last approach, my flash made my presence known. When it went off, everyone in the car knew that an event was taking place—the spotlight was on someone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about intuition. Its value, its place in everyday life when it shows up. Because it does show up; we just rarely choose to look at it. To use it, that’s another thing entirely — it seems that takes practice. This here, an excerpt from the introduction to Bruce Davidson’s 1986 book of photographs Subway (just reprinted), is just about a perfect description of intuition on paper.