Bruce Davidson’s Subway series documents life in the New York subway, recording the animated energy of train carriages and station platforms across the metropolis.
Taken in 1980, the photographs teem with a diverse cross-section of the city’s residents, including young lovers, gang members, blind businessmen, rough sleepers, weary commuters and wary tourists. They populate trains covered with graffiti, evidence of the burgeoning street art movement of the period. The use of colour is strikingly sensual. Davidson was previously known for working in black and white, and this remains his only series produced exclusively in colour.
In the early 1980s New York’s public transport system could be a menacing place. To prepare for the project, Davidson underwent a strict exercise regime that would enable him to carry heavy photographic equipment and also escape from potential threats.
However, his intention for the series was to show the beauty that co-existed with the danger: “In transforming the grim, abusive, violent, and often beautiful reality of the subway into a language of color, I see the subway as metaphor for the world in which we live today. It is a great social equalizer. As our being is exposed, we confront our mortality, contemplate our destiny, and experience both the beauty and the beast. From the moving train above ground we see glimpses of the city, and as the train moves into the tunnel fluorescent light reaches into the gloom, and trapped inside, we all hang on together.”
Bruce Davidson was born in 1933 in Oak Park, Illinois. He lives and works in New York City.
Now showing at the Tate Modern London www.tate.org.uk