Artopia: Gone-zo Photojournalism

Joseph Songco chronicles Sound Transit's path of destruction.

Joseph Songco spent his teenage years in Queens, where he used to hang out in a friend's apartment immediately beside the elevated J train. "I always wondered what it would be like to live near a huge public-transit project," he says—meaning not a finished line but one in the process of being built, with its accompanying sudden, severe transformations. He'd seen the black-and-white photographs of streets being dug up and buildings torn down to make way for the New York City subway's construction, and he marvelled at the idea of experiencing that first-hand. It took a move to Seattle to make it happen.He arrived in 2000, living in the Central District, Beacon Hill, and now Rainier Beach, and commuting by bicycle. "That's how I kinda saw what was going on," he explains. "I'd ride by North Beacon, and it'd be like, 'Oh, check that out. That's where they're drilling. That's where the station's going to be.'" So Songco, a freelance photographer and photo researcher, trained his lens on light rail's path, particularly on Martin Luther King Way.His photographs are paired, before and after, like an amazing series of magic tricks ("And now, Sound Transit will make this house disappear!") or a Where's Waldo? book written and illustrated by Samuel Beckett (you're looking for something, and then there's nothing). Songco says he hasn't decided if the pairs will become triptychs when the buildings are replaced and the trains running.The photographs gained poignancy for him in 2004, with the birth of his first child and the death of his mother. "All of a sudden," he explains, "shooting the houses brought a different meaning. The structures became more than just materials and wood. I try to be neutral [on the light-rail project]. I'm just trying to document how, for the common good, some people have to sacrifice."

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