New photo project profiles life on Muni, one rider at a time
Photographer Kian Lavi was struggling to keep up with his hobby because, like most of us, his day job always seemed to get in the way. But people like you—Muni riders each with a story of your own—inspired him to start a 100-day photo project that has captured the best of what we love about life on the bus. Lavi has been photographing one rider a day on his commute, and he is just a little more than halfway done. Along the way, he says, “I’ve gotten job offers, heard fantastic stories, and have fallen in love with every person I get to talk to.”
And of course, getting to know your fellow riders gave Lavi a Muni story or two of his own. We chatted with him last week:
What made you decide to do this 100-day project?
I heard about The Great Discontent’s #The100DayProject after reading an article about Michael Bierut, and it made me realize how out of touch with my own photography I had become. I do street photography in my downtime, but without downtime, I’d all but stopped. The project’s prompt to make something, however small, for 100 days caught my eye and has held my attention for over 50 days now. I love people, so it was natural for me to focus my project on the people around me every day.
Why did you choose Muni riders as your photo subject?
I work about 12-14 hours a day at my job downtown, and the only constant seems to be the 24 minutes I spend on the 7 every morning and every night. I looked around me every day and noticed everyone was on their phones. A bad habit started creeping in—I became one of those people, idly passing time alone when all of these wonderfully interesting people were around me. I thought interviewing and photographing my fellow bus riders would give the both of us some relief from the monotony we often find ourselves in.
Day 39: Matt “So who is this?” I ask. “My boss. Yeah, he’s a little beat up. I took him to B2B and we took pictures with every stranger I met. My boss is out of town right now so he doesn’t know my coworkers and I made this.” “We’re having an event next week when he comes back, we’re going to put this up with all the pictures we took with it so he doesn’t feel like he missed anything.” #The100DayProject #100daysofbus A photo posted by Kian Lavi (@kianlavi) on
What’s a surprising story that happened so far in your project?
One encounter in particular felt like something out of a Woody Allen movie: on Day 35, an older woman approached me at the bus stop late one night, asking if I knew when her bus was arriving. She had this adorable smile and a “Notary Public” button on the lapel of her knit jacket.
We made small talk about the lights emanating from a museum exhibit next to my office and we chummed around at this bus stop for a while until we realized neither of our buses were ever going to make it.
Seconds after denouncing Muni angrily, the F trolley popped around the corner, and she said, “Let’s get on! The trolley is so lovely this time of night. Sure it takes longer but I don’t mind if you don’t.” I was on my way to a friend’s house for dinner, but something made me give in and say yes. We sat on the trolley together, giggling like hyenas and comparing all of the interesting museum exhibits we wanted to see around town. She told me about her work (she’s a librarian), and we made a date to see each other the next night at the museum by my office, for an opening they were having.
We spent all of 30 minutes talking, and what a brief interaction it was! I never even got her name, just a handshake as I left the trolley. But in that moment, the rest of the grime and the grit (and the thugs on the trolley) of the city faded away, and it felt like we had known each other for many many years. Meeting her had big impact on me. People can do the most amazing things — she definitely became the impetus for the rest of the project. I hope I find her on the street again.
Day 59: Theresa As soon as I pull out my camera she tells me, “I am 65 years old! Make sure you write that down.” We talk about our plans for the night, and she tells me she’s in town visiting her brother-in-law. “I just came in from Sacramento. I’m burning up!” #The100DayProject #100DaysofBus A photo posted by Kian Lavi (@kianlavi) on
Hey Kian, don’t stop at 100! Running a site about Muni, we know a thing or two about approaching people on the bus—it’s no easy task! Follow Kian on Instagram (@kianlavi) to see the rest of his journey. And if you’ve photographed or met someone intriguing on Muni or BART, you have our number!