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)