Back In The Day – The New York City Subway In All Its Former Glory
In 1985 there were approximately 40 recorded felonies on the New York City subway system. Every single day. It’s a wonder how young photographer Chris Morris mustered the courage to set off on to the mean (subterranean) streets and begin months of personal project work documenting the New York subway. Let’s take a walk on the wild side and go back in time and check out these previously unpublished images.
When was the last time you undertook a personal project that could easily have resulted in all of your gear being stolen at best, or possibly being seriously injured or even killed? Chris Morris could easily have come up against either one of these options when he took to the New York City subway system in the 1980s to capture it’s grit and grime. Fortunately all was fine and he came away with a classic, historic document of just how crazy riding around the New York subway system used to be.
Then a young 22 year old photographer, Morris took to the subway system, sometimes riding alone, sometimes with the Guardian Angels (a group set up to protect the citizens of the subway). His work reminds us of an almost forgotten era of what New York used to look like and represent before it was cleaned up.
Chris, a founding member of the VII Photo Agency, both a renowned and critically acclaimed photojournalist who contracts for TIME and an accomplished fashion photographer, used a combination of ektachrome film and a magenta filter to offset the intense fluorescent lights he was having to deal with in the subway system.
Although inevitable comparisons can be drawn between his project and the work of Bruce Davidson from Magnum who completed a seminal project entitled “Subway”, itself a wonderful study of the subway system, I feel Chris’s work captured the very essence of the era and underground subway madness in all it’s “glory” beautifully and in a unique way, different from the vision Davidson had for his series.
If you travel on the subway today, you might think it’s dirty and grimy but it’s positively a bastion of cleanliness compared to what it used to look like. The amazing thing about these images is it shows just how quickly times have changed. It’s a great testament to not only the power of photography to freeze an individual moment or split second, but it’s ability to chronicle a time span that could cover months or years and to transplant us back there in the blink of an eye and remind us of what the past used to look and feel like.