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2014-No Pants Subway Ride-NYC-Luke Kingma

Since 2001, performance artists Improv Everywhere have surprised and delighted the unsuspecting public with large scale, flash events across the country. The most celebrated of these is the ‘No Pants Subway Ride,’ a rare chance for young people to show off the complexion of their upper thighs, often to the horror and disgust of onlookers.

For 11 years, it was immensely popular. We simply couldn’t get enough of it. But as time went on, and as the event’s profile continued to rise, the No Pants Subway Ride sacrificed its most critical advantage—the element of surprise. After all, ‘improv’ and ‘regularly scheduled national event’ don’t quite go hand in hand. Luckily for us, they found a solution. 

The date was set—January 12, 2014. Participants from all walks of life answered the call, meeting at predetermined spots around the city to get organized. Though we were all so different from one another, we did share one thing together; one banner raised over our heads; one mission and purpose; one commonality—cameras.

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The first annual Journalists and Photographers Subway Ride was born. The premise was simple – bring the bulkiest, most expensive recording device possible, be it a Nikon D4, Canon XL1 or Apple iPad, and go underground. Our task was more daunting—convince the internet that an authentic improvisational event had happened. We were resolved to succeed.

The turnout, it turns out, was unprecedented. New Yorkers showed up in droves with their fanciest equipment, boarded the trains at formulaic intervals, and rattled passengers. “What do you think of the event?!” one camerawoman asked just seconds after entering the train and pinning a microphone to a stranger’s shirt. The targeted passenger, who didn’t have time to process that an event was happening in the first place, declined to comment.

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Successes like these continued through the afternoon. When the ride was over, we congregated in Union Square, where event participants had time to flex their equipment in the largest electronics expo since CES. We had only brought a Nikon D5000, and therefore didn’t feel confident enough to stick around too long, but what we did see was astounding. We swear we even spotted a Bolex at one point.

…But did it work?

A quick google search offers a resounding “YES.” The world remains convinced of the authenticity of the No Pants Subway Ride, all thanks to those who made the Journalists and Photographers Subway Ride happen. Seriously, the passengers totally didn’t see it coming; they were probably too distracted by all the cameras. Job well done.

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Get in touch with the author @lukekingma. All photographs by Luke Kingma for Untapped Cities. For photos of actual pantless people, go here

5 Comments

  1. John says:

    I feel like I’ve stepped into an alternate dimension by reading this comment thread. Charlie, you’re complaining about the unwanted attention you received while riding the subway pantless? And Luke, you’ve always “respected” what he does?

    • luke kingma says:

      Improv Everywhere have a long history of really creative and inspired flash events. 95% of them are done without the public’s participation or prior knowledge, as it should be. It’s just the current state of the No Pants Subway Ride that I have beef with.

  2. Charlie Todd says:

    But you were part of the problem! You were on my car and took as many photos as the others, all displayed here. You were at the meeting point and must have heard me plead with the media not to take any photos or video for the first five stops. Did you hear me personally beg the PIX 11 guy on the platform before we boarded, “From the bottom of my heart, please don’t take your huge camera out for the first five stops.”

    I concede that it’s a huge annoyance, but I’m at a loss for how to solve it. Do you have a suggestion? How can I prevent people like you from showing up and taking photos? Also, to be fair, there are 6 other meeting points around the city and the media generally ignores these. If you want an authentic No Pants Subway Ride experience, go to Flushing, Astoria, Bushwick, or really any of the locations other than the downtown one.

    Yes, I could take the event totally underground again and only invite 10 friends. But it’s something that 4,000 people enjoy doing every year (generally 2/3rds having the experience for the very first time.) There would be enormous backlash if I uninvited thousands of people. And, if I canceled it all together, some random person would organize it without me, and I”m pretty confident it would be awful. I spent 5 weeks organizing and preparing and doing everything I can to make it as smooth as can be.

    I’m honestly curious what your suggestion is.

    • luke kingma says:

      Thanks for the comment Charlie! I honestly love your private flash events so much, and I’ve always respected what you’re trying to do.

      I was part of the problem, which is why I had to be transparent and mention that I brought my own camera. Truth be told, I went to the meet up in Park Slope, but just couldn’t get excited about it this year – not sure if it was all the press, or the fact that I’d been a participant since 2011 and it was time to retire. I left before the organizer began to speak, having decided not to document it this year.

      Ironically, I ran into a separate group at City Hall about an hour later just before it was about to happen. The reason I knew? Because there were four gigantic professional video cameras standing behind a group of people waiting for the 6 train – it was obvious something was about to go down. So I decided to document the complete scene, photographers and all. I did see a handful of passengers who were amused by the no pants portion, but I got a strong feeling most were uncomfortable with the cameras in their faces, recording their reactions. And of course I was part of it, but it was an unfortunate evil in trying to make my point.

      As for how to keep the press away – in this day and age, it’s so tough. Everyone’s tirelessly searching for stories to tell, desperate to prove New York City life is perpetually thrilling and exciting, and keen on overselling it all. Something the Diner En Blanc does really well might help you guys out. They don’t reveal the location of the dinner until moments before it happens, therefore keeping it a secret from the press until the moment it’s happening.

      This forces interested journalists into one of two corners – either they can fully participate in the dinner as a guest, and bring their camera along to document things from their personal perspective (which is a natural behavior, in my opinion) or they can wait until photos/tweets start coming in and rush to get there as quickly as they can. The beauty of #2 is that it’s likely the dinner guests will arrive in the location before a majority of the press do. This preserves the most important moment – the element of surprise – for passersby who aren’t in the know.

      Improv is all about performing in the moment. I think it could be interesting to make the meet-up locations / subway trains a secret next year, only to be revealed to the participating group RIGHT before you go underground. You’ll never completely lose the press, and you wouldn’t want to – they’re a strong ally in helping you scale what you do. And scale is good. But I do think there are ways to weed out the journalists and photographers who are ONLY interested in documentation, rather than participation.

      You guys can do such a great job, and I’ll look forward to your next event!

      • Charlie Todd says:

        Thanks for the reply Luke. That’s crazy that you just happened to stumble upon us at the City Hall stop. You found the absolute worst car! It was the worst car because I was in it, and the press likes to follow me personally. At the meeting point (which I now know you missed) I spent a good bit of time talking to the press on the megaphone in front of everyone, pleading that they be discreet, pleading that they don’t interview people on the train, pleading that *in particular* to not use your giant ENG cameras until after the ride has been going on for 5 stops. Then when I got to the platform, where our paths crossed, the guy from PIX 11 had his huge camera out and I gave him a personal plea. He agreed, but moments later was filming on the train, creatively hiding his enormous camera with a tiny hat! (Nice photo of that absurdity.)

        I’ve considered delaying the release of the locations, and I may do that next year. I only reveal my Mp3 Experiment location 24 hours before, and we see way less press cameras (though it’s worth mentioning that it doesn’t have scantily clad photo ops.) It’s tough, because people travel from all over to be at the No Pants Subway Ride, and it seems like an inconvenience for someone coming in from out-of-town to get a last minute location. But maybe that is the solution. Or maybe I should reveal the locations on Friday and not Monday.

        Anyway, I appreciate the response and conversation. Thanks Luke.

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