Bruce Davidson’s “Subway,” on at C/O Berlin through May 20, presents 47 dye transfer prints of the New York City Subways during the 1980s. Davidson’s subway is more than a means of a transportation system, it is a temperamental and a moody maze, a constantly evolving being that adapts, changes, and transforms. Entering each “subway” is entering a limbo, a suspended space in time that theoretically will carry you towards your destination, but along for the ride will come stories, glances, emotions—-it is and was a rite of passage.
Born in Illinois in 1933, Davidson began his series in the spring of 1980, gradually moving from black and white photos to color, in order to capture the glisten of the skin and, the fluorescent glare of the car lights that illuminates the stark honesty of circumstance. Whether the cars are jam packed to the brim or carry a lonely passenger, the journey offers a new experience. Unstaged documentations of New York City, the images discretely expose the everyday—from lost souls trying to find their way home, to those in search of somewhere to go, to violent outbursts—intact with their own language, the semiotics of the passengers. The gritty carts covered with graffiti inside and out hold their own scripture, understood only by some.
Davidson beautifully deconstructs certain tawdry mythologies of 80s subterranean New York, allowing the dark and degenerate subject matter to have a face and humanity. The portraits of people staring not at the lens, but past it, are exhausted and drained. Passengers forcing their ways into already overflowing, sweaty, cryptic cars evoke a claustrophobic sense of dominating space in a stifled and sombre environment. A manicured talon wedges into a woman’s face and aA violent tussle breaks out between two men. Yet, simultaneously, little children, their arms full of toys, stare sweetly out the window as dusk settles over Coney Island’s landmark, the Cyclone. Dawn breaks over the city in one image just as the train pulls in, its approach signifying the end, or the beginning, of a journey.
by Irinia Makarova
[Image: "Subway," 1980, by Bruce Davidson]