Christophe Agou (1969 – 2015) was a French photographer who lived in New York and, like Walker Evans, took a series of images of the New York subway – Life Below (Agou, 2004). He said ‘Trust your heart and open your eyes’ and ‘There is a certain honesty underground, a certain truth. The sense of enclosure is sometimes oppressive, but I love the feeling of the pulse beneath the city’ (Hogarth and McLaren, 2010). Agou worked in both black and white and colour, across the city of New York and in the countryside of the Forez hills in France. In the New York subway he took mainly images of people who were unaware of him ‘an intimate rendezvous with people in a meditative state from every conceivable walk (Agou, 2011) while for the work in Forez, published as in the face of silence (Agou, 2011 a) he spent time getting the know the community of farmers over eight years. As well as a a photographer Agou was a gifted writer. His website describes his interactions with the people he photographed using lyrical prose ‘… underneath the wooded volcanoes, the furrows of poor earth, the thick fog, the scent of damp clover, the cry of the crows, the entanglement of the forest after a storm, the peace in the heart of the vines, the paths dug up into ruts, the fields lying fallow, the snow swept away by the north wind, the mysteries of the night, the silence… this reality inspires me’ Agou, 2017).
While Agou used the underground as a way of exploring people’s emotions, he was not intrusive. Although he did not always ask about taking the images, he would engage with the people involved and, unlike Evans, he did not hide his camera. However, his images in this series do act as an updated view of the subway. I find some of his other images, from in the face of silence more revealing. The time he spent with the farmers has allowed a more intimate view, the details are both heart-warming (a cat and a cup) and heart breaking (a picture of Christ under a pipe in a wall). He has filmed ‘their life as it is’ – with details, but no sentimentality.
Agou, C. (2004). Life Below: the New York City subway. New York: Quantuck Lane Press.
Agou, C. (2011a). books | christophe agou. [online] Christopheagou.com. Available at: http://christopheagou.com/books/ [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].
Agou, C. (2011b). In the face of silence. Stockport: Dewi Lewis.
Agou, C. (2017). face au silence (in the face of silence) | christophe agou. [online] Christopheagou.com. Available at: http://christopheagou.com/face-au-silence/ [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].
Howarth, S. and Mclaren, S. (2010). Street Photography Now. London: Thames & Hudson.