If you’ve ever found yourself standing on a subway platform at 3 a.m., you know this to be true: the most surreal moments in a metropolis often happen here. Deep under the earth, millions of people randomly collide as they commute, creating a sort of humanistic Large Hadron Collider in which, every once and a while, both the laws of probability and of civility break down and create a moment of inexplicable otherworldly weirdness.
French photographer Janol Apin doesn’t wait for these surreal moments to happen. Instead, he creates them. In Apin’s Métropolisson project, the names of Parisian subway stations come to life when the photographer stages scenes with astronauts, rock stars, barebreasted goddesses, and more on the platforms of the city’s subway system. The result is a series of photographs emphasizing our disconnect with the past and the results are fantastically bizarre.
Containing 245 stations tightly packed within a 34-square-mile expanse, the Paris Métro is one of the densest subway systems in the world, with station names chosen for important people and places in France’s rich history: Republique, Champ de Mars, Charles de Gaulle. According to Apin, it was a serendipitous alignment between the evocative name of one of these stations and a random passerby that initially inspired the Métropolisson series.
“One day, as I was riding the subway, I happened to glance out the window as we pulled into the Richard-Lenoir station,” Apin tells me. He saw a random commuter posing dramatically underneath the Richard-Lenoir station sign, and for one brief second, Apin thought that the person could himself be Richard. Apin soon realized his brain’s commuter-frazzled confusion, but this sparked an idea: While we know a subway station intimately, the meaning behind its name is often forgotten.
So at Charles de Gaulle station, Apin’s camera captures an upright military man with a squared French general’s hat in mid-march as he walks down the subway platform. At Republique, France’s revolutionary past is evoked by Marianne, France’s bare-chested avatar for the triumph of liberty and reason over all. At Champ de Mars, an astronaut–blissfully unaware that he has gotten off at the wrong station–waits for the next train. At Duroc, a rock band prepares to shred; at Dupleix, a woman sits on a man’s shoulders. And so on.
Since 2006, Janol Apin has produced over 120 pictures in the Métropolisson series, which have been collected into a single volume. With 245 stations in the Paris Métro system, it means Apin has plenty to keep him busy in Paris. That’s too bad. Don’t you want to know what Apin would do with Cockfosters, Mudchute, Pudding Mill Lane or any of the other weird stations in the London Underground? Yeah, me too.