I found these photos on the blogosphere this week and experienced a slight bout of shock. We've all seen the NYC subway as the scene of crime and graffiti and as a bleak underworld featured in film after film. But any person traveling through the metro today would hardly recognize those clips as representative of our reality. For me they seem more like cynical exploitation of graffiti art to represent 'urban-ness'. But photographer Christopher Morris' 1985 photos of the NYC subway prove that world to have also been real at one point in the past--the not too distant past, actually.
The photos show a subway world completely covered in graffiti, each surface buried under layers of tags. Complete with 1980s fashion these could very well be pictures of a wholly alternative reality instead of history--a reality with an aesthetic not unlike medieval islamic architectural aesthetics, with every surface covered in obscure geometric and organic patterning.
But the photos prove a very real world, one nearly erased by the 'clean' (relatively), white tiled stations of today's midtown. Curiously, this was also a metro riddled with 14,000 felonies annually and its own vigilante safety group, the "guardian angels", members of which are also featured in these photos. I hesitate to mention that--I sense the socially imagined interrelatedness between graffiti and crime may have come from this period--because these photos by themselves are extremely fascinating and beautiful in a way. And I am stricken by the stark contrast these photos cast between the 1980s and our own contemporary metro.
Anyway, enjoy these.