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January 6, 2022

Incredible Photos of New York City’s Subway in 1980

In the spring of 1980, Bruce Davidson began his ‘Subway’ project, which focused on New York City’s subway system. Instead of the common black and white portraits, Davidson shifted to color after he realized that the subway was “a dimension of meaning that demanded a color consciousness”.

Davidson’s portraits deliver a distinctive insight into the life of the underground community. Each picture in ‘Subway’ captures a rare moment in time within the history of socialization in the country. According to Davidson, the series served to connect the culture of New York. He described the graffiti in the streets as being a secret language decrypted by the subway.


For the task ahead, Davidson had to prepare himself with the uttermost care, both physical and mental. “If they said ‘yes’, it was yes; if they said, ‘No,’ then I knew it was no forever.” Said Davidson. “It was hard for me to approach even a little old lady. There is a barrier between people riding the subway – eyes are averted, the wall is set up. The breakthrough this painful tension I had to act quickly on impulse, for I hesitated, my subject might get off at the next station and be lost forever.

“In transforming the grim, abusive, violent, and yet often serene reality of the subway into a language of color, I see the subway as a metaphor for the world in which we live today. From all the earth, people come into the subway. It’s a great social equalizer.” States Davidson in his conclusion by the end of the series. “As our being is exposed, we confront our mortality, contemplate our destiny, and experience both the beauty and the beast. From the moving train above ground, we see glimpses of the city, and as the trains move into the tunnels, sterile fluorescent light reaches into the stony gloom, and we, trapped inside, all hang on together.”

‘Subway’ remains Davidson’s most successful work to date. Take a look back at the life of the underground community in 1980 through these 21 incredible photographs below:





















(via Public Delivery)




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