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Reflections On Life

© Dougie Wallace

Lviv, Ukraine

Reflections On life is a series of photographs that shows the faces of passengers glimpsed through the windows of trams, at the moment of departure.

As the subjects go about their lives, a reflection of their city, be it grand architecture or garish posters is captured on each traveller’s face. Often the subject appears to be looking the viewer directly in the eye, their gaze intense, lost in thought as they prepare to leave. The multi-layered images produced in these fractured scenes leave the viewer disoriented and filled with trepidation. ‘Reflections On Life’ is a surreal series of photographs that tells the story of people and their cities in subdued yet painterly tones. Shot without flash, there is a natural juxtaposition of shadow and light.

Images were taken in Lviv, Ukraine in 2010. One of the little idiosyncrasies of this city’s trams is the overwhelming ratio of female drivers, compared to males. As a result, the tram driver’s cabin feels very homely. Adorned with curtains, ornaments or a bouquet of flowers, there is a handbag somewhere on the sideboard and even a cheeky snack. While curtains are used to separate the driver from the passengers as a low budget solution for the shabby transport system, what they lack in professionalism, they make up in a variety of colours and clothes, which adds to the somewhat domestic feel. But, don’t be fooled by the cosy set-up. If a tram encounters a mechanical problem, the lady driver is a pro – she will fix it! Another notable trend from a ‘decade’s since’ vantage point is how commuters engage with their surroundings and, at times, each other without smartphones to keep them glued to their screens. Only the odd one reading the newspaper kept their heads down.

‘Reflections’ was an ongoing project that had taken Wallace to record the daily commute in cities as diverse as Lisbon (Portugal) and Alexandria (Egypt), Tirana (Albania) and Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), which had suffered a similar tragic fate in the early 1990s to that of Lviv today.

Perceived as a progression from Wallace’s early works and combining elements of the unique social documentary photographic style employed in his seminal depiction of party life in London’s Shoreditch, this project would become the direct precursor of Wallace’s book Road Wallah, a series of environmental portraits depicting Bombay taxi drivers.

A selection of these ‘Reflections’ images were shown in a solo exhibition at The Outside World gallery in east London in 2013 and at Format International Festival, Derby. Dougie Wallace said at the time: “I became increasingly fascinated with the idea of reflections and the ability these have to change and make us reconsider our perceptions of everyday life.”

Reflecting on ‘Reflections’ in the midst of the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis, Wallace added: “As the tragic events unfolded on our screens, it made me reach for the photos and think of the good times I had in Ukraine. I first went to Ukraine to visit KaZantip, which presented itself as a 'virtual republic' electronic dance music festival. It took place every year from 1992 to 2014 when the war started in Crimea on the Black Sea coast. The best way I can describe it is a cross between Glastonbury and Burning Man in a disused extraterrestrial ex-Soviet space base by the beach. Then I travelled around and ventured to Lviv.

I went back there for a second trip specifically to take pictures of trams. I took the overnight train from Krakow in Poland to Lviv. It is devastating to see the destruction and human suffering. Thinking of the strangers in my images, I am left wondering where they would be now.”

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