When most people think of the subway in the 1980s, they think of scary things. A few years ago The New York Times likened the state of the city to “a house of horrors“. But as a newly published set of nearly 500 photos show, New York City’s underground wasn’t always so horrific. It’s bizarrely beautiful in all its squalor.
The images come from contributions to NYCsubway.org, a two-decade-old site devoted to anything and everything subway-related. It’s true that the subway was rough in the 1980s — the system saw 250 felonies per week, on average. However, it’s just as remarkable how much the subway was a hotbed of culture and innovation. New train designs were being tested out, including the anti-graffiti Redbird cars. Those birds are now quite rare. Meanwhile, graffiti itself continued to change the world’s understanding of American art. It still does.
But it’s perhaps the most mundane photos from this new set that are most poignant. A man talks on a payphone. (Remember those?) A conductor smirks out the window of her train. A worker mops the floor of a dirty car. A missing R train sign, replaced by a piece of paper. A woman wears a red dress. It’s almost peaceful, this little glimpse it a sometimes misunderstood chapter of our urban history. Taken as a whole the photo set is gentle reminder of how we’re all in this together. [NYCsubway.org]