Magnum photographer Danny Lyon captured commuters on the New York City subway back in 1966. These amazing color photographs don’t look their age; there’s a certain quality to Lyon’s work that makes these 48-year-old photographs feel contemporary, except for the obvious changes to the decor of the subway.
These photos are part of the MTA exhibit, Underground: 66, which displays Lyon’s photographs (that had previously never been publicized) at the Atlantic Avenue Barclays Center. In a press release about the show, the MTA’s Lester Burg stated that “Brooklyn is changing very rapidly and so many newcomers have joined longtime residents among the 40,000 people who use the Atlantic Av-Barclays Center station every day.” Underground: 1966 provided a great opportunity to show commuters how it used to be, and to show off the work of a groundbreaking photographer who was born in Brooklyn.” And the Brooklyn-born artist couldn’t agree more. Of having his photographs displayed in a subway station, Danny Lyon says “There is something about taking the work to where the people are that makes for a different viewer connection from visiting a museum to see an exhibit.”
Danny Lyon used a Rolleiflex camera and Kodak color film, giving his images an almost “Instagramable” feel. His subjects are also timeless–a 7 train rushing by, a woman sitting on the train, standing alone on the platform, two young women silently enjoying a break from the cold, a lone sailor, a dapper young man on the train, and two young men on a platform. Danny Lyon takes his subjects out of the chaotic subway setting and gives them a space in time of their own; one of tranquil silence.
New York City has drastically changed in the past 50 years. To some long-time residents, parts are unrecognizable. One thing that has remained less changed is the subway. While New York City streets were being transformed, the underground remains a static image of nostalgia. While many trains have been updated, virtually everything else remains the same: the silently contemplative riders, grinning children, signage.
See also Walker Evans’ beautiful subway photographs from the late 1930s, taken without the subjects knowing and, vintage photos of 1980s NYC subway riders by Bruce Davidson. See more work for MTA Arts & Design here.
For more of Danny Lyon’s NYC photography, check out his book The Destruction of Lower Manhattan about the construction of the first World Trade Center.