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Nicholas Wilkins Takes Voyeuristic Photos of Melbourne’s Morning Commuters

The photographer's eerie macro shots capture the frustration of being stuck in traffic.
June 2, 2016, 3:32am
A macro shot of a commuter sitting in traffic. All photography courtesy of Nicholas Wilkins and COMA Gallery

New on the Melbourne gallery scene is Centre of Modern Art (COMA). Founders and curators Caledonia Connor and Gabriel Santos put on one exhibition per month for one weekend only, striving to work collaboratively with local artists to display their work in uniquely immersive ways. This weekend the duo are staging their second show, a set of voyeuristic macro images by local photographer Nicholas Wilkins that captures Melbourne’s morning commuters from afar. Just the right amount of intimate without being creepy, Habitats evokes the surreal loneliness of sitting in traffic for extended periods of time.

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Wilkins came up with the idea for the series on his own daily commute, from the city's northern suburbs to the south. “While sitting in the maddeningly slow-moving traffic I had a lot of time to observe those around me,” he tells The Creators Project. “In the afternoon and morning sunlight you often catch glimpses of people between the shadows, yelling at each other, gesturing silently, or just simply sitting and staring in the monotony of the traffic.”

The photographer shot over 1,000 photos for the series from vantage points like overpasses and sidewalks, traveling around the city via its freeways and arterial roads and archiving what he saw. “I used a long telephoto lens so that I was able to maintain some distance from the subjects,” he explains. “Then there was a process of sifting through this huge archive to find images that I thought held some kind of emotive power, and cropping them further so that what's left is this hyper close up, slightly pixelated study of people in cities.” The result is soft, pixelated macro shots of commuters at the wheel who are totally unaware they're being watched.

Wilkins found himself increasingly fascinated by what he refers to as 'the capsule of the car'. “It’s a space that's private but public,” he says. “People spend many hours in their cars each day, surrounded by others, but predominantly alone… Cars hold all these individual lives, full of drama and tension.”

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The series also examines the strange feeling of isolated safety you feel when driving a car by yourself. “Cars are spaces where people feel comfortable because they're protected by a metal casing, so they might be more natural and less guarded than in the street,” Wilkins adds.

Habitats focuses on big city alienation and loneliness, but the series is also thought provoking for its unabashed voyeurism. These days, we don’t think twice about photographing strangers going about their daily lives, and Wilkins’ project doesn’t seem as creepy as it might have in the past. “We're all voyeurs in some respect, be it on Facebook, Instagram, with our phones,” Wilkins says. “I think it's amazing that most people are constantly walking around with cameras in their phones now. We're more voyeuristic than ever, and our lives are more public than ever.”

Habitats opens on Friday June 3 at COMA, L1 Studios, Level 1/377 Little Bourke St Melbourne. You can find out more about Nicholas Wilkins here and follow him on Instagram.

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