Photographer Robert Lieberman shoots the city from his car window-and you might be his next subject.
Like all passengers of Robert Lieberman’s blue-green 1990 Toyota Corolla, we’re relegated to the backseat. Riding shotgun, as always, is his camera. Mounted on a makeshift rack—a Frankensteined monopod combined with PVC pipe suspended from the headrest—the lens points out the open passenger-side window. This allows Lieberman to pull up alongside CTA bus stops, rapidly snap a few photos with a shutter-release cable near his gear shift and speed off.
Catching unsuspecting commuters in wait mode (or “prey,” as Lieberman refers to them) is a passion the 49-year-old freelance commercial photographer and Art Institute of Chicago grad has been exploring since the summer, when his phone stopped ringing with calls for work. “As a commercial photographer, I hated going into unnatural situations and telling people to act natural. With the bus-stop photos, I’m really trying to channel Allen Funt,” the Rogers Park resident said on a recent Friday morning while shooting stops along Marine Drive. “I grew up on Candid Camera. I thought it was fascinating—documenting human nature, showing people how they really are. This is sort of closer to Punk’d.”
For “Lost and Found,” an exhibit at Bridgeport’s new PlayfulZen Gallery, Lieberman culled 26 photos from about 10,000 he’s taken as part of his Bus Stop Chicago project. He says the photos give us permission to simply stare at people, something that’s considered a public-transit taboo. “I see these folks trapped in their lives, trapped on their buses going back and forth, back and forth. But I also see this waiting as their moment of freedom. Look, they’re standing there staring into space,” Lieberman says. And with a ninja-quick click-click-click of his shutter, he snaps a young woman in tall brown boots lighting a cigarette. Then he swerves back into rush-hour traffic toward the next bus stop.
“Lost and Found” closes Sunday 31 at PlayfulZen Gallery (2147 S Lumber St, studio 516, 312-623-1120).