New York City is full of jobs that place people in public isolation: M.T.A. employees sit inside Plexiglas cases next to underground turnstiles, street venders grill meat while confined in fifty-square-foot trucks, liquor-store attendants push bottles through slots in walls of shatterproof glass. For the past few months, I’ve been drawing people experiencing urban solitude. I’ve drawn a girl slumped to her side on the subway, asleep on her way home from school; a man’s face illuminated by his laptop’s glow as he sat alone in his apartment; a woman leaning into a post as she held her cell phone tightly to her ear in an empty parking lot. While most of those people were encased in private moments, the men and women I’ve drawn here are, perhaps, in the opposite situation: though they’re often physically removed from those around them, separated by glass or a counter’s edge, engaging with others for only brief moments, they’re also well positioned to observe the city moving around them. The more I’ve drawn residents of the city, the more I’ve come to think that perhaps these moments are lonely only for those who are observing them. The girl asleep on the subway is simply asleep—it’s the viewer who is projecting his own interiority upon her. Perhaps we see loneliness in others simply to feel less lonely ourselves.
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