Subway Photography

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Subway as a “non-place” (Collins) and still having trouble getting my head around the conception. It made me think of some famous subway photographs. Why is the subway such an iconic and meaningful place to photograph? Would a non-place really have this rich of an aesthetic and social life?


Walker Evans (1938-1941)
New York

“Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”

“They are members of every race and nation of the earth. They are of all ages, of all temperaments, of all classes, of almost every imaginable occupation. Each is incorporate in such an intense and various concentration of human beings as the world has never known before. Each, also, is an individual existence, as matchless as a thumbprint or a snowflake.” – James Agee (in the introduction to Evans’ collection of Subway photographs)


Robert Frank (1955)
New Orleans

USA. New York City. 1980. Subway.

Bruce Davidson (1980)
New York

“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 over the earth, people come into the subway. It’s a great social equalizer. 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.”

This entry was posted in Public vs. Private in Small Urban Spaces, Time and Space. Bookmark the permalink.

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