Bruce Davidson on Photographing the New York City Subway System

Back in the spring of 1980, Magnum photographer Bruce Davidson began to photograph the subway system in NYC for his project titled Subway. NYRBlog has published an interesting essay — an excerpt from the introduction of Davidson’s book — in which the photographer talks about his experience:

To prepare myself for the subway, I started a crash diet, a military fitness exercise program, and early every morning I jogged in the park. I knew I would need to train like an athlete to be physically able to carry my heavy camera equipment around in the subway for hours every day. Also, I thought that if anything was going to happen to me down there I wanted to be in good shape, or at least to believe that I was. Each morning I carefully packed my cameras, lenses, strobe light, filters, and accessories in a small, canvas camera bag. In my green safari jacket with its large pockets, I placed my police and subway passes, a few rolls of film, a subway map, a notebook, and a small, white, gold-trimmed wedding album containing pictures of people I’d already photographed in the subway. In my pants pocket I carried quarters for the people in the subway asking for money, change for the phone, and several tokens. I also carried a key case with additional identification and a few dollars tucked inside, a whistle, and a small Swiss Army knife that gave me a little added confidence. I had a clean handkerchief and a few Band-Aids in case I found myself bleeding.

It’s an interesting glimpse into the mind of a photographer who takes his work very seriously.

Train of Thought: On the ‘Subway’ Photographs (via

  • Osmosisstudios

    That seems… excessive for the NYC Subway, no? I mean, I’ve carried a fair bit of gear through the subway and never needed this kind if silliness.

  • Guest

    But this was the NYC subway in the 1980. It was a totally different place then.

  • Guest


  • Anonymous

    You have really interesting blog, keep up posting such informative posts!

  • Blackwidow

    did you live there in the 1980s to say that?? 

  • Nn-r

    It was and very little research would have told you so. Read the whole essay and even he will mention how it was back then.

  • A New Yorker

    You obviously were never in the NYC subways in the 80s

  • Jack Forster

    It’s interesting to read the statistics on how much violent crime dropped in New York since then –I was just out of high school in 1980 and I’ve lived in New York since graduating from college in 1984, and the subways used to feel extremely dangerous at times.