Over the course of two years, Bill Sullivan took more than 30,000 pictures of people in New York City, using a camera that was either hidden or was otherwise unobtrusively positioned. The artist made the images according to a method he calls “situational photography.” In place of the spontaneous time and space coordinates normally at work in the practice of street photography, Sullivan devised a system that stipulates seven rules he needs to abide by in every shot (e.g., in each series, the background must be identical). He defers to a set of circumstances determining “when [to] take the picture—like the doors of an elevator closing.” Subjects in the photos gaze at the camera unawares, with repetition of the scene and vertical framing further enhancing the sense of objectivity. The artist feels his process avoids the theatricality of conventional portraiture, producing images that create a more direct connection between viewer and subject.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is the site for Sullivan’s More Turns (The Subway Turnstile Pictures) and Stop Down (The Elevator Pictures) (2003-2004), along the moving sidewalks in Terminal 1. In each series, a scenario repeats. In the former, people move through a subway turnstile; in the latter, the doors of an elevator close over a sequence of three frames. Installed at life-size scale, visitors’ movement along the sidewalk in effect “animate” the images. The scale of Sullivan’s project and his adherence to a rigorous set of parameters results in an authentic portrait of the public at large.

Presented in partnership with Toronto Pearson International Airport. Supported by BMW Canada.