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Amazing Photos of NYC Subway Commuters Back in the ’80s

Children hovering by the subway window to the glow of Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel. A man cowering from a pointed gun. A young vandal at work in a tagged subway car. A punk brooding at a station. In the mid-80s, photographer Bruce Davidson captured New York City’s subway commuters in a ground-breaking series first published by Aperture, freezing the subject in powerful, split-second vignettes.

The Illinois-born photographer has described his subjects as “the people in the subway, their flesh juxtaposed against the graffiti, the penetrating effect of the strobe light itself, and even the hollow darkness of the tunnels, inspired an aesthetic that goes unnoticed by passengers who are trapped underground, hiding behind masks, and closed off from each other.” Decades later, the images seem familiar yet distant, cinematic yet tangible. See flash-frightened women in furs and vigilante crime patrollers in our gallery and look for the third edition of Subway available soon from Aperture.


Photo credit: Bruce Davidson. Courtesy Rose Gallery

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