It couldn't be more timely to see the release of Allen Wheatcroft's first monograph, Body Language, which explores the delicate balance between connection and dislocation, something he keenly observes while roaming city streets in the U.S. and Europe, with his Leica camera in hand.
Taken between 2014 and 2018 in Chicago, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm and Uppsala, Sweden, the photographs emphasise gestures, movements, and expressions – "a visual language without words," as he puts it.
These pictures prompt us to wonder about, and empathise with, the bankers and doormen, loners and "gym rats", tourists and sunbathers – eager, perplexed, hurting – who inhabit our modern cities. With a focus on tension, loneliness, and synchronicity in contemporary life, this project captures the universal language of the body in the street.
The Chicago photographer likes to imagine where the people he sees live and work and what they think about. He's curious about the connections they've missed and the chances they've perhaps lost. He knows his subjects only from the gestures they make, the feelings they project as they walk or linger: "With my camera, I capture the moods they convey as I pass, never to encounter them again."
Now, as we face the global pandemic of COVID-19, we wonder how people might change their behaviour. Would they be lost in their own worlds as much? Or become more aware of their surroundings, noticing others, and what they might be doing? Will isolation and loneliness deepen and turn to mistrust and social distancing?
Whatever happens next, Wheatcroft's images remind us of our humanity. That maybe next time we're out in the world, in a daydream or lost in thought, we might stop to take a look around and acknowledge each other a little more.
Wheatcroft describes himself as a "un-observed observer". He often blends in, like a tourist or shopper, when shooting so the people he photographs go about their business without reacting to him. He is interested in the context as well as the people and finds patterns or movements that convey a sense of how strange life can be.
Body Language by Allen Wheatcroft is published by Damiani and released on 24 March.