Home View from Underground Scenes from New York’s subway past

Scenes from New York’s subway past

by Benjamin Kabak

Danny Lyon, IRT 2, South Bronx, New York City, 1979. (Courtesy of Fans in a Flashbulb)

A few years ago, when the NYPD and the MTA briefly concerned banning photography in the subway system, New Yorkers were, as a quick Google search shows, up in arms about the move. Shooting photos in the subway has become an iconic part of New York life and culture, and by mid-2005, the two agencies had dropped the camera ban.

Today, over at Fans in a Flashbulb, the International Center of Photography offers up a tantalizing glimpse at some subway photos from New York’s past. They highlight just five photos, and the shots, ranging from a 1943 Weegee shot of a crowded subway station serving as an air shelter to a 1995 Steven Siegel photo of the Culver Viaduct looking as rundown as it does today, leave you wanting more.

My favorite is the 1979 glimpse inside a graffiti-covered 2 train in the South Bronx. The subways were once so dingy, and everyone was so complacent about the state of affairs underground. In a way, that attitude exists today as New Yorkers still don’t view the subway system as something in which we should be investing instead of as an inconvenient means of transportation. Anyway, as these shots show, great photography underground can truly capture the essence and flow of the subways. Enjoy ’em.

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10 comments

Scott E January 26, 2010 - 5:11 pm

Wow. The first thing you noticed was the grafitti. The first thing I noticed was that everyone, except for one person, is seated. If there were seats covered with graffiti today, I’d bet they’d remain empty.

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Kid Twist January 26, 2010 - 5:47 pm

These are way cool, Ben. Thanks for sharing with us.

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Jerrold January 26, 2010 - 6:47 pm

It looks as if “Danny” took one of those pictures, and one year later wrote his name on the subway car that is the subject of the next picture.

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Jerrold January 26, 2010 - 6:52 pm

Seriously though, I do remember with a great deal of negative nostalgia the days of the graffiti’d-up subways.

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rhywun January 26, 2010 - 8:59 pm

The graffiti is the first thing I noticed too. What an out-of-control dump this city was. I am often appalled at the disrespect some of our neighbors show to the space around them now, but one look at the bad old days makes me realize how much worse it can get.

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nyctaxiphoto January 26, 2010 - 10:15 pm

Danny Lyon kicks ass, didn’t know he did awesome subway shots too. See his book the destruction of lower manhattan

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Alon Levy January 26, 2010 - 10:19 pm

I noticed that the car was very shabby at first. The graffiti was the second thing I noticed – it almost blends into the shabbiness.

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A TRAIN « SNAPLINES June 15, 2012 - 12:47 pm

[…] “IRT 2, New York City” photographed by Danny Lyon in 1980 […]

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A TRAIN | COMPOUND ART November 14, 2014 - 1:45 pm

[…] “IRT 2, New York City” photographed by Danny Lyon in 1980 […]

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