J. Wesley Brown’s vivid nighttime portraits of bus riders are a refreshing look at a rarely seen side of Los Angeles. The city’s freeway interchanges are iconic, but for many Angelinos, these bus stop dwellers represent an even more authentic feeling of home.
Brown, 34, spent two and a half years roaming the city to shoot Riders, a series of fascinating portraits of ordinary people doing ordinary things. That might seem like a mundane topic, but Riders offers a commentary on the societal strata of Los Angeles.
“Riding a bus in L.A. is the most outwardly visible sign of class divide,” says Brown.
In shooting Riders, Brown found the movie posters in bus stop advertising sometimes offered a commentary on the scenes framed by the bus shelters. And his exploration of the city noted that poorer neighborhoods that don’t attract advertising dollars often don’t have bus shelters at all.
Los Angeles is known for its cars, highways, and driving. Yet, owning a vehicle is expensive and mass transit is a necessary part of life for those with fewer resources. The current LA Metro might not be as expansive as the once-extensive streetcar systems but a major city today can’t function well or serve its full population without at least some mass transit.
It sounds like the pictures also highlight one of the odd features of car ownership in the United States: outside of a few places, like Manhattan, many Americans would choose to purchase a car when they have the economic means. Whether this is because a car offers more independence or is a symbol of having reached a certain social status or mass transit is viewed as more lower class or a combination of these, attaining car ownership is an important part of American life.