Creating Chromological Order with the U-Bahn
Originally published on PassionPassport.com
When Lauren Randolph was working in Berlin in 2014, she lived on the U8 U-Bahn metro line. She had minimal cell phone service and was afraid of getting lost, so she used the U8 line as her city map.
Eventually, she could recognize the stations by their shades instead of their names. Rosenthaler Platz, Weinmeisterstraße, and Alexanderplatz became known as the orange, blue, and mint green stations.
“In New York, [the stations] kind of all look the same; in LA we barely have a subway system,” she said. “I just honestly got inspired by all the colorful stations.”
Riding the U-Bahn provided her with an idea for a new project.
See, Lauren is obsessed with two things — rainbows and collecting large amounts of data.
She often creates data projects for herself. One was a project in which she took a self-portrait every day for 365 days; another was a single second of video per day edited together using a special app.
And Lauren’s obsession with color organization — or, chromological order, as she calls it — started when she was invited to show her work at an Instagram-themed art show. Wanting to go above and beyond to display her photos in a new way, she printed more than necessary and arranged them by color instead of date. The result hung on Lauren’s bedroom wall for several years.
So when she noticed the U-Bahn stations, Lauren only planned to photograph the most colorful ones.
But after the first 50 stations, she couldn’t stop. Over the course of four trips to Berlin in 2016, Lauren photographed over 150 U-Bahn stations.
She’d pick a line, ride to one end, and start there. Stopping at each station along the way, she’d take the metro from one end of the city to another.
First, Lauren photographed the station sign straight on, as she wanted each station to have its name represented. Then she’d spend the time before the next train walking up and down the platforms, photographing anything that stood out.
“Oftentimes I would see someone wearing the color of the station and, without being creepy, I’d follow them around a little bit,” Lauren said with a laugh.
By crisscrossing her way around Berlin underground, Lauren started to see things others would have only perceived above the metro lines.
“It’s obvious when you’re in the center in the hipster area and then you go a little farther out and it’s the older people who have lived there forever and then you go a different direction and it’s not as gentrified yet. You really get to see the districts just by riding the trains.”
But it’s the U8 line that feels like home to Lauren. She still thinks of Rosenthalerplatz as “her stop.”
And because of this project, she’s realized that Berliners and tourists alike feel connected to certain stations.
“I love the personal connections people can make with it, whether you live there now or whether you went there for vacation,” she said. “There’s also a guy who lived there in the ’80s and [the U-Bahn photo series] inspired him to go through all of his old film to find his old stations and see how many of them haven’t changed at all.”
Photographing the U-Bahn stations has caused Lauren’s love of metro systems to expand into other cities, like London, New York City, and Stockholm.
“To me, it seems like a futuristic thing — this underground subway system,” she said. “But it’s not at all, it’s very old school.”
She even found herself enjoying riding the subway in New York, which she’d previously thought of as uninteresting.
“I don’t think people take the time to look at their commute,” Lauren said. “It maybe takes a nice outsider’s perspective … it’s not my everyday commute, I don’t live there … to notice these colors and the differences.”
Lauren created the U-Bahn series because she loves Berlin and wanted a piece of her favorite city on her wall. She’s been pleasantly surprised by the responses she has been receiving to her photos.
I think people love public transit, people love trains — there are all these niches,” she said. “But it’s the finding beauty in the everyday that people appreciate.”
Lauren is interested in starting another chromological order project in New York, and has a few ideas about what else she can seek out to photograph and sort by color. Her next project might not be as big as the U-Bahn series, but it will definitely be colorful.