Subway by Bruce Davidson published by Steidl /

With its more than 1,000 kms of tracks, 460 stations and several millions of rides delivered each day of the year, New York’s subway system is a world of its own, tirelessly running through its five boroughs like ever-pulsating veins, the nervous system to the city that never sleeps. American photographer and Magnum member Bruce Davidson infamously captured this urban microcosm on film back in 1986, focusing his lens on the commuters, musicians, train conductors, thugs, vagabonds, businessmen and buskers that made up the underground’s make-up at the time. And, given the particularly dangerous nature of the subway back in the 1980s, this was no small feat. Davidson: “As I went down the subway stairs, through the turnstile, and onto the darkened station platform, a sinking sense of fear gripped me. I grew alert, and looked around to see who might be standing by, waiting to attack. The subway was dangerous at any time of the day or night, and everyone who rode it knew this and was on guard at all times; a day didn’t go by without the newspapers reporting yet another hideous subway crime. Passengers on the platform looked at me, with my expensive camera around my neck, in a way that made me feel like a tourist-or a deranged person.” It is precisely this prevailing sense of tension that make Davidson’s visual journey so mesmerising, each of his subjects, for example, portrayed with haunting authenticity, staring zomby-eyed into Davidson’s direction. More than 25 years on, and although the book has been given a Steidl update (it now comes with additional unpublished photographs), Davidson’s work has aged magnificently, remaining a vivid and powerful reflection of the city’s past.

Bruce Davidson: Subway

Published by Steidl

Available from Amazon here