Since 2010, photographer and human geographer Mike Harvey has been documenting the transient and often intimate relationships he has with his taxi passengers driving around the streets of Neath, between Port Talbot and Swansea in Wales.
“I wanted to document the lottery of people that occupied the taxi space and the experiences that taxi driving gave me” says Harvey “Whether it be rushing a pregnant woman to hospital or being regaled stories of World War II by an elderly passenger, the taxi provided a space to meet, converse with, and learn from people.”
“The array of people that journeyed in the taxi were diverse. The shop and call centre workers, tradesmen, policemen, pensioners, prostitutes and lawyers, the publican, millionaire, undertaker and pauper, the school teacher, drug dealer, drunkard and postman - the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the sober and the high”
For Harvey, these passengers represented a small cross-section of society and also of Welsh culture. The resulting images in the TAXI series also drew on Harvey’s background as a geographer with issues of community, urban identity, consumerism and sustainability of societies all coming into play.
Harvey would store his DSLR in the glovebox and, if during the ride driver and passenger had built a rapport, take it out when they had reached their destination and ask to take a photograph, waiving the taxi fare as a thank you if the passenger agreed. The subjects are not classically ‘posed’ but asked to look as natural as possible with some passengers choosing to look away or rummage in their bag during the process. The results are fleeting moments of acceptance or even collaboration in the process, rather than predatory on the side of Harvey and they show the brief relationship that has been built up between driver and passenger.
“I took around 130 photographs in total over a 6-month period” he says of the black and white images that are all taken simply with the indoor car lights and D5000 flash “I made sure that I used the same taxi in every photograph and it always had to be a shot from the front to the passengers in the back – for consistency of representing the space and the people occupying it. In a way they photos are my view from the rear-view mirror”
There are other reasons for sticking to black and white for this series. Harvey was born colour blind and gravitates towards either bold colours or black and white which he can see better. “Secondly” he sayd “the back of the taxi I used had yellow seats, which were an excellent feature (in keeping with the black and yellow cabbie colours), but tended to overpower the image when in colour, and detract from looking at the people in them”
Harvey used the cab to fund his travels to places such as Brazil, China, Egypt, India and Nepal, working for a few months in Wales before setting off again. “It was very interesting going to, say, Delhi with the scope of life in that thriving metropolis, all of its layers, and then seeing something similar in my cab in Neath” says Harvey “When I travel, I hope to take photographs that get under the superficial tourist façade, and that is what inspired me to take pictures in the taxi – to reveal the real community behind the assumptions”
The images were never the whole point for Harvey. “As a taxi driver, people would divulge aspects of their lives to me that they probably wouldn’t volunteer to any other complete stranger. The safety of the taxi space, and the knowledge that they may never see me again, encouraged people to open up. People would talk candidly about the things going well in their lives – their careers, relationships, weddings and such. But they would also impart information about things that weren’t going right – experiences of depression, break-ups, and even the contemplation of suicide. I always felt a strong responsibility to help these people just by listening, and carefully suggesting things that might encourage them to take a different view. In many ways this led to my role as driver gaining aspects of counselor, but I was always careful about what I said, as I think that sometimes the best advice is no advice – it can all be loaded with our own hopes, dreams and fears”
TAXI is currently being exhibited in Wales and Harvey is working on several new projects both in Wales and further afield. You can find out more about the TAXI project here: