Home Asides Link: Bruce Davidson’s subway photography

Link: Bruce Davidson’s subway photography

by Benjamin Kabak

Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the subway from the early 1980s remain some of the more iconic images from the time period. His stark photos show the system at its nadir. Graffiti-covered trains and dark stations belie the dangers that were inherent in the subways at the time. We’ve come a long way from those days, and now Davidson’s images evoke a bygone era that we’d rather not revisit.

Earlier this year, Davidson’s book was reissued, and a few weeks ago, he penned an essay on his experiences for The New York Review of Books. In it, he talks about overcoming his fear of the subway as he rode into parts of town that a guy with a fancy camera would otherwise never visit. He speaks of approaching subjects to get their permissions for photos, and he relates a tale of getting mugged near Chauncey Street in Brooklyn.

Today, with subway crime far below record highs, we often take safety for granted, and the new rolling stock lends an air of sterility and security to our rides. But Davidson’s essay reminds us that we’re not far from those bad old days. Give it a read; it’s well worth it. (NYRB via Kottke)

You may also like


John T December 29, 2011 - 6:05 pm

I have mixed feelings for when the subway & NYC was a mess. I am so glad it is cleaned up, but it was part of my past and memories too, both good & bad. I am not sure how to react when my 15yo son enjoys looking at trains with grafitti, yet asks why people did that to the trains he loves so much.

Glad he had the guts to take the camera out and document it all. We always tried to hid anything we had of value back then.

Bolwerk December 30, 2011 - 12:33 am

Speaking of photography, this is a tad off-topic, but it might be of interest to some people here. 1940s color photos of NYC, though sadly short on transit.

(Maybe even more off-topic, but here are some photos from the same time-period. Includes rail infrastructure in, but not in NYC.)


Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy