Who are these beautiful exhausted riders of the New York City subway? Why does the girl seem to keep watch for her mother; why does the mother sleep? Does the girl say something to the photographer?

Sometimes, riding in close quarters on NYC transit, photographer Dawn Kim will take a picture. She posts the image on her Instagram account. Kim’s subjects have a private look, a stillness: halted in motion. And her pictures have the power to halt us in the fragmented flow of images.

In Dawn Kim’s transit pictures, we glimpse the thing in others we most want to know.

Often, expressions of human tenderness surface (families, parents, and children are frequent subjects on Kim’s Instagram feed). She takes a picture, which can be an attempt to see to love, to catch it unaware on an orange bucket seat. “Love is a battle, love is a war, love is a growing up,” wrote the writer James Baldwin, trying to describe the ineffable.

We asked Dawn Kim about her intention when photographing people on the train.

“I wouldn’t say that I hold different photographic intentions on the train from anywhere else I use my camera—it’s what I visually gravitate to. Perhaps it’s the contrast of these human moments that are visually loudest in these cramped, often irritating, commutes.”

Mundane dramas of intimacy flare up in the pictures:

And moments of — what is the man below experiencing — despair? Grief? Or is he simply late to the dentist? The whiff of a story in the image:

The tension, stress and anxiety embodied by many of Dawn Kim’s subjects remind us: suffering is never packed completely below the surface. How do we attend to it? How do we exist in this world and participate, given the cost?

How do we continue to ride — sometimes in cramped and vexing spaces — through space?

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