Photo Essays | Christopher T. Assaf
39 imagesThrough the "Bus Scenes" images, I visually explored commuter culture on Austin's Capital Metro public transit system. This involved observing the ebb and flow of the bus, using only an iPhone, as people filed on and off — a swath of humanity presenting itself in a fresh and unobstructed manner. Before me, individuals from varying levels of the socio-economic hierarchy coalesced in the bounded spaces of the bus stop and the bus. As a new Austin resident, the bus formed a basis for my introduction to the city and its residents, seeing people starting and ending their days in the communal space the bus provides. In most cases, interpersonal connections were in absentia as everyone made their own way in their own world in a shared space, rolling along a systematic route. Most everything on the bus, no matter how strange or out of place, became normalized as the individual commuter remained within their space, with their headphones and screens acting either as shields or distractions, depending on the moment. Within this essay, modeled after the work of documentary and street photographers such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Vivian Maier, and Helen Levitt, with photojournalistic tendencies, I translated my encounters through the visual, finding moments that derived personal meaning within a common space and bringing them together. The work exists in a pre-Covidian space, when social distancing and masks were not part of everyday conversation and would have significantly altered any potential images after March 13, 2020, the day my commuting ended. Abruptly, the work concludes with my final bus ride making photographs on March 4 — before the shutdown and classes went virtual. It is a glimpse into a commuting culture that may never be the same. All the photographs are with an iPhone while commuting on the Capital Metro bus system.
12 imagesLife for 17-year-old "Chunk," James to his family, is not easy. He lives with his mother, a six-year-old sister and two recently born twin boys. The family is on welfare and his stepfather has been jailed for drugs. As with many teens like him, the high school junior has difficulty getting a work or keeping a job. The lure of the gang lifestyle, with its drugs, money and sense of kinship, constantly tugs at him. Chunk feels the weight of the world on his shoulders, and feels it is getting heavier by the day. He sees his escape as when he graduates high school and attempts to join the Marine Corps.
12 imagesBefore the final day of classes at Grant Elementary School, Daniel Barajas, a sixth-grade student, waits to help students cross the street as part of his safety patrol responsibilities. The 112-year-old school is closing after the district decided it would be too expensive to overhaul. As everyone scurried to pack up their pens, papers and paintshirts, a thirdgrade student paused momentarily to listen to the faint sound of chimes. "I can hear the bell," she announced, a hint of sorrow in her voice. Silence immediately fell over the classroom as everyone stopped and turned toward the window. For a few seconds they all listened as the school bell continued to ring at somewhat even intervals. After 112 years, Grant Elementary School in Elgin wrapped up its final school year. The two story, red-brick building was tagged for closure five years ago by a team of building experts. Its cavernous basement and a difficult floor plan were deemed beyond repair or renovation. Students will be sent to neighboring schools instead. "It's old, but it's not like really trashy," fifth-grader Diana Tinajero said. "I've touched a lot of lives in here," said Shirlene Hogue, who began her teaching career at Grant 23 years ago. "I hope it's been a positive experience for them." — by Charla Brautigam.
12 imagesSpring training is a baseball ritual. Players and coaches, followed by a cadre of journalist and photographers—and a few fans—arrive and spend weeks in camps crashing for the start of the season. The Baltimore Orioles facility is in Sarasota, Fla., where they will spend time hitting, fielding and drilling, preparing minds and bodies for the long, arduous season. The Orioles' pitchers and catchers stretch and warm up before the second day of workouts at the Orioles spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla. The group arrives a few days before the rest of the position players to get a head start on the season.
7 imagesTwo nights of pure brawling in a small Southern Maine city by men who would be considered average by most standards. They mix together to box in an abnormal tournament. One fighter is a tombstone cutter. Another works in a tanning salon. A commercial pilot will fight a worker from a paper mill. Their goal is common-to stand in the artificial light of center ring and be named champion of the Sanford Toughman Contest.