Getting to work every morning in Rangoon, Burma

Collectors Nathan and Rachel Bearman have generously donated 15 of my limited edition prints to The Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The prints that the museum selected and which the Bearmans donated came from my collection “Around the World in 89 Photographs.”

It’s difficult to say I have a favorite image from this series. In fact, the collection was supposed to be only 80 images in total, so clearly editing and winnowing down a series is not my strong suit.

This image is one of the 15 being acquired by the MFAH. I took this picture in 1998 in Ragoon, Burma… now known as Yangon, Myanmar. While I have traveled on buses like this one in different parts of the world, I did not get on this one. And whereas today I would snap off 20-30 pictures of this bus trying to get the perfect shot, back in 1998 I was still gingerly testing my limits as a photographer. I took just one frame.

There’s a lot going in this image. In addition to being a ridiculously jam-packed bus, there is the attempt by yet one more person to board, there is the guiding hand that’s helping get more folks on, the conductor with the wad of money and the telling eye contact from the upper left-hand corner that (for me) draws us in and forces us to examine the humanity of the moment.

I grew up commuting on subways and busesĀ in Manhattan and the Bronx. As a young adult working on Madison Avenue (actually Grey Advertising on Third Avenue, but who’s counting), I spent many a morning confronting one subway after another that was completely full with no room for so much as one more person. Back then, I dealt with the situation by learning how to jump onto and ride the subways between the cars (involves a not terribly bright maneuver that includes peeling back a protective gate to prevent exactly this act).

This single image sparked my idea for the collection “The Daily Commute” that was exhibited for a year at The Oakland Museum of California nearly a decade ago. I fell in love with the idea of sharing the various commutes that we all endure and in a way that allow us to find perspective on our own commute. In my dream, these images are exhibited on New York subways and buses… and while I’ve explored that possibility, government budget cuts make it impossible for now.

Eventually, I’ll re-visit “The Daily Commute” collection and re-introduce it on my website. In the mean time, this is one of my more iconic commute images and it lives in “Around the Wolrd in 89 Photographs.”

I’m proud to report that, thanks to the Bearmans and to Del Zogg and Anne Tucker at the MFAH, it will now live on at this prestigious museum as well.