Back in the Subway

Subway by Bruce Davidson, Steidl 48€

For several years now, publisher Steidl has been republishing photographers whose work, often out of print, represents a cornerstone in the story of photography and its dissemination. In this way, artists such as Robert Frank, William Eggleston or Lewis Baltz – who have always believed in the importance of publication in book form – have been able to bring their work to the public eye again. Now photographer Bruce Davidson will see his work reprinted. Following Circus, England/Scotland 1960 and the magnificent collection Outside Inside, printed in 2009, his series on the New York metro, Subway, has just been reissued.

When Davidson carried out this work, in the early 80s, the New York subway was a dangerous place: no day passed without some act of aggression or violence. In the fine introductory text, the photographer explains how he prepared himself, like an athlete or explorer, to face any situation, to overcome fear and to venture out on the rail network well beyond Manhattan, through devastated or well-kempt neighborhoods. He describes the poverty, the unlikely encounters by day or by night, and how he dared to take pictures with flash amidst this human magma. Beyond the views and the voyage framed by the train windows, beyond the incredible presence of taggers’ graffiti dripping endlessly all over the carriages, Subway is a book portraying men and women, rich and poor, in a theatre that neutralizes all social differences. Davidson began the work in black and white, but, quickly struck by the combination of artificial light and metallic reflections from the surface of the train, was persuaded that the images required color. This is exceptional in his oeuvre. Subway is a rainbow ride from slums to city skyline. We encounter the human condition through a unique collection of portraits and attitudes, captured in the cool tones of the legendary kodachrome. Bruce Davidson remains faithful to the human commitment that drew him to photograph life in Harlem or the Civil Rights Movement – a story told by a perceptive and generous observer.

By B. F.