Bus Stop Stories at John Rylands Library: A waiting game

Andrew Anderson

A new project by photographer John Shinnick displays tales and pictures from people standing at the bus stop.

Smartphones connect us to a thousand facts, planes whisk us across the world while we watch the latest Hollywood films, and supermarkets sell asparagus the whole year through: the future has truly arrived, in all its splendid plenty.  But one thing in short supply is reflection: how often in our daily lives do we have time to do, well, nothing? There is perhaps one place in the city where we can escape, an urban oasis that offers time for contemplation on the human condition: the humble bus stop.

It is this zone of zen that Manchester-based photographer John Shinnick sought out for his photographic series Bus Stop Stories, now on display at the John Rylands Library (20 February – 22 June 2014). Shinnick started the project as a way to challenge himself; “I wanted work at speed, in different light, with different people…and I had a picture of this bus stop on a rainy day…so I decided to stake it out for a few hours.” Those few hours become weeks and then months as he got caught up in capturing more than just pictures. “I didn’t realise how open people can be,” says Shinnick, the enthusiasm clear in his voice. “People were willing to share some very private thoughts.” From a mother dealing with her son’s heroin addiction to an old man jokingly claiming he was a gangster, each human experience offers a different insight, documented in the exhibit through conversational captions.

“People were willing to share some very private thoughts”

It is not, however, a series that just uncovers dark and difficult personal dilemmas. Instead, it highlights hope, happiness, and the surprisingly sunny outlook with which people face life’s challenges. The everyday nature of the subjects and location give the collection a universal quality; or, as one viewer put it, “I can find myself in these pictures.” The bright, open faces in the photos match the spacious and clean-lined atrium of the Rylands, and Bus Stop Stories makes for a pleasant diversion when passing between the more solemn stuff on display. Shinnick is now planning to exhibit the images further afield, and is working on another project that will photograph supermarket products through the food chain back to their source. But, for now, he is enjoying the reception his pictures are receiving, especially from the subjects themselves, “When I showed one guy his portrait he said, ‘look at me…I’m art!’ and I loved that reaction.” Bus Stop Stories is a lovely way to commemorate the reflective, mundane moments we all need more of.

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