Haunting GIF Portraits Of Beijing Subway Commuters
Just as the subway systems in cities like New York, London or Tokyo have long reflected the lives of the populace, the oldest subway route in Beijing, Line 2, has been reflecting the state of China’s capital city for the past 40 years. This unique social landscape, made up of the unspoken stories of individuals riding in its cars, is captured in the above video Line 2 created by Chinese filmmaker Kit Chung.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, currently based in Bejing, Chung created Line 2 following his previous video project Kwan Tong Line, shot in Hong Kong five years ago. By collaging footage of ordinary commuters, and zooming in on the details of their faces, Line 2 conveys an uncertain vibe that runs like an undercurrent in many people’s life.
While the video allows the viewer to piece together a mental picture of a common Beijinger’s life, Chung also experimented with the GIF format this time, which he then focuses on to convey the individual’s state of mind through endless looping portraits. You can see more GIFs on his Tumblr.
We caught up with Chung to learn more about his creative process:
The Creators Project: From shooting Kwan Tong Line in Hong Kong to shooting Line 2 in Beijing, what has changed in your approach to creating these videos?
Kit Chung: I changed my way of editing quite a bit in the two projects. Kwan Tong Line is an assemblage of shattered-to-pieces original footage—an attempt to let the audience experience Hong Kong’s sense of urban density through the repeated images, and a sense of heavy repressed atmosphere through the scattered images. Line 2 retains the shaky quality, but the editing emphasizes the close-ups. Piecing together a whole face from many enlarged close-ups of people, I saw that these people in Beijing are full of pressure, much like Hong Kong people, but you can feel a sense of strength, ease and hope in them.
Are the different styles in the videos a result of the differing people and locations?
The local people and atmosphere is only one aspect that contributed to the style. But the most important change is my own condition while shooting. When I made Kwan Tong Line, I felt close to the people in the train. I felt like I couldn’t breathe in Hong Kong’s state of society then. All of the characters sort of reflected my own state in that film, sort of cold and exhausted. When making Line 2 though, I realized I can look at the people in the train more objectively. From their facial expressions, I was able to see and describe the mood of the cities outside of my own perception.
In this project you’re experimenting with making GIFs for the first time. What has it allowed you to achieve that video could not?
I didn’t want to edit the GIF into a loop that looks just like a video. Instead, I used it to created a “moving portrait” and got some surprisingly interesting results. In these GIFs, the person is in the train going forward without a beginning or an end. Because of the GIF, these people exist in the train forever.
How did the soundtrack of Line 2 come about?
The soundtrack was created by two friends in one night. They both like to fiddle with electronic parts to create noises, and then input into computer to create different sound effects through signal and frequency. They then added some ambient music from the subway. The sound is an important element that brings out the inner condition of the city and the people in this project.