Friday, December 30, 2011


This excerpt is from the introduction to Bruce Davidson’s Subway, a collection of his photographs of New York City's mostly underground metropolis. A 25th anniversary edition has just been released by Aperture. 
"At first I photographed in black and white. After a while, however, I began to see a dimension of meaning that demanded a color consciousness. Color photography was not new for me—most of my commissioned work and all of my films have been done in color. But color in the subway was different. I found that the strobe light reflecting off the steel surfaces of the defaced subway cars created a new understanding of color. I had seen photographs of deep-sea fish thousands of fathoms below the ocean surface, glowing in total darkness once light had been applied. People in the subway, their flesh juxtaposed against the graffiti, the penetrating effect of the strobe light itself, and even the hollow darkness of the tunnels, inspired an aesthetic that goes unnoticed by passengers who are trapped underground, hiding behind masks, and closed off from each other…..
As I ventured out into various sections of the city on the different lines, I found that many of the trains emerged from underground. From the elevated tracks I could clearly see many of the neighborhoods that make up New York. Some areas of the city seen through subway windows look devastated and bombed out, with housing projects looming like impassive canyon walls. Still others were made up of neat family houses with fenced-in backyards. There were views of old ethnic neighborhoods, often with large ornate churches, reminiscent of picturesque hillside towns in other countries. The harbor docks, Statue of Liberty, and Manhattan skyline were all framed through the windows of the train."

1 comment:

  1. I am familiar with that hollow darkness, and aesthetic is not a word that comes to mind there. Perhaps it is the smell, or the ear wringing noise, that walls everyone within him or herself, avoiding eye contact. Things appear black-and-white down there, as if we were some bottom-dwelling sea creatures, blind to colors.