By Johnathan Comer
Street Sense, 09/11/2013
Coming up the escalator, the sound is quiet at first; a distant noise, as if my ears aren’t quite sure what they’re hearing. A few feet up, the sound grows and becomes unmistakable. As sunlight falls across the top of the escalator, the swelling music replaces the roar of Metro cars below. For a brief moment, the music is reminiscent of a movie score, whereupon I am at the main character and a soundtrack is cuing the start of my day. The white noise of the city brings me back to reality, and I step off the escalator, searching for the source of what sounds like classical guitar music.
This morning there is a man playing what appears to be a mandolin, though it sounds more like a guitar. For the past few weeks, he has been intermittently serenading the morning crowds at Farragut North. As he effortlessly plays his instrument, far fewer people drop money into his “tip box” than the beauty of the notes deserves. I, too, drop a few dollars into his box, to which he sincerely thanks me. Rather than keep walking, however, I briefly stand and listen, then begin to take a few quick photographs of this “busker” at work. As I leave, he smiles and nods; I do the same.
For the past week I have been searching for street performers, otherwise known as “buskers.” In D.C., most buskers can be found at or near Metro stations during weekdays at rush-hour, though they do certainly perform whenever a crowd can be found. At the Chinatown/Gallery Place Metro station, for example, it common to see a drummer, dancer, or guitarist almost any day of the week. At other stations, such as L’Enfant, one will typically see a busker only on weekdays, as commuters hurriedly head to and from work.
Though their art is certainly beautiful and entertaining, I have another goal in mind: to photograph them while performing. It takes a certain amount of courage to perform within the midst of so many people, with the only assured reward being this: sharing one’s talent with the world. Though they are unknown to the world at large, their talent is worth remembrance; some of the most powerful drum patterns I have heard were projected from nothing more than large buckets and trashcans. As such, to photograph a busker is remember their talent and passion.