Lawyers, students, drug dealers, prostitutes, pregnant women on their way to the hospital — a vast array of people living in or visiting Neath, Wales, have gotten into Mike Harvey’s cab, not knowing what would happen at the end of the ride.
In 2010, Harvey, a photographer, worked as a taxi driver in the small town to save up funds for his world travels. At the end of the ride, he would ask his passengers if he could take their photo.
His passengers’ candor surprised him. People share a lot when they never expect to see you again.
Five years ago, photographer Mike Harvey returned home to Neath, a traditional Welsh market town, located at the base of the valleys, with strong historical links to the coal and steel industry. There, he started working as a taxi driver to save up money for his world travels.
Fascinated by the cross-section of society that stepped into his cab -- people from all walks of life, rich, poor, old, and young -- he set out to document their journeys.
Storing his camera in the glovebox, he would take it out at the end of a ride, after he'd built up a rapport with the passengers, and ask if he could take their photo. In exchange, he'd waive their taxi fare.
He always made sure to take the same taxi from the lot -- a Vauxhall Vectra with yellow and black leather seats -- and shoot the photos from the front, of the passengers in the backseat. The framing gives you a glimpse into his perspective from the rear-view mirror.
Most passengers would act naturally, staring down the barrel of the camera and not feeling like they had to pose or even smile. Others would continue to talk or rummage in their handbag.
'Taxi driving put me in a range of interesting predicaments, whether it be helping someone in a road traffic accident, rushing a pregnant lady to the hospital, being offered drugs or sex by inebriated customers, or driving the working girls home from a local brothel,' Harvey says.
His taxi company had a contract with the local brothel (which is legal in Wales), so he often drove home its employees and came to know them quite well. 'They'd be like, 'Busy night tonight, Mike?' And I never knew whether I could ask the same question back,' Harvey says.
Harvey says as a taxi driver, he often felt like a counselor. People would divulge aspects of their lives that they might not volunteer to any other complete stranger. They believed that they would never see him again.
'People would talk candidly about the things going well in their lives -- their careers, relationships, weddings and such,' Harvey says. 'But ...'
'They would also impart information about things that weren't going right -- experiences of depression, break-ups, and even the contemplation of suicide,' he says. 'I always felt a strong responsibility to help these people just by listening.'
Now working as a special education teacher in Neath, Harvey plans to continue the 'Taxi' series abroad. Over the next few years, he hopes to travel to Japan, Iceland, and Venice, and ride-along with drivers there.
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