Reflections on the Underground

When my friends or family visit from the US, without fail one of the first questions they ask is “Wow. Is the subway really this open?” Meaning: Does anyone control the tickets? Do I really have to buy one? Oh, Berliner U-Bahn… one of the most entertaining places in the city – there could possibly never be a dull moment. From a man dressed up in a chicken suit (see above) to tap-dancing, cross-dressing folk singers. The lack of space and lower ceilings makes the experience even more intimate.

Visiting Bruce Davidson’s photography exhibit “Subway,” which is currently running parallel to the Arnold Newman exhibit at C/O Berlin, I was reminded of why I love the underground in both NYC and Berlin in particular. The grit, the constant noise as the train roars through the tunnel, the occasional beer after a long day at work. Taken during the 80s, these photographs show a much different picture than what we are used to seeing today. Train cars are not maintained or cleaned, hardly any space without graffiti or tagging, dilapidation and an overall sense of poverty.

Davidson’s exhibit consists of 47 dye transfer prints that are graphic, crisp and real – contrary to the Newman exhibit nothing is staged here. Much like ourselves, Davidson is just another passenger on the train, taking in the daily, normal, everyday life experiences. Street photography at its finest. At some points he was even caught in the middle of an armed robbery. This too he documents.

Despite the dreary colors and sense of gloom in the photographs, people are the focal point. There is a strong sense of humanity, and with that, a sense of hope. The exhibit reminded me a lot of one of my favorite spoken word pieces from the Peace Poets (NYC): True Story About a Woman Singing on the D Train. “And by now you’re bringing light into this underground tunnel, a new kind of light into this concrete jungle. You are bringing back the beauty into this beautiful struggle, so sing my sister sing.”

  • C/O Berlin “Subway” Bruce Davidson, March 16th – May 20th 2012, Mon – Sun: 11am – 8pm