37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

When most people think of the subway in the 1980s, they think of scary things. A few years ago The New York Times likened the state of the city to "a house of horrors." But as a newly published set of nearly 500 photos show, New York City's underground wasn't always so horrific. It's bizarrely beautiful in all its squalor.

The images come from contributions to NYCsubway.org, a two-decade-old site devoted to anything and everything subway-related. It's true that the subway was rough in the 1980s—the system saw 250 felonies per week, on average. However, it's just as remarkable how much the subway was a hotbed of culture and innovation. New train designs were being tested out, including the anti-graffiti Redbird cars. Those birds are now quite rare. Meanwhile, graffiti itself continued to change the world's understanding of American art. It still does.

But it's perhaps the most mundane photos from this new set that are most poignant. A man talks on a payphone. (Remember those?) A conductor smirks out the window of her train. A worker mops the floor of a dirty car. A missing R train sign, replaced by a piece of paper. A woman wears a red dress. It's almost peaceful, this little glimpse it a sometimes misunderstood chapter of our urban history. Taken as a whole the photo set is gentle reminder of how we're all in this together. [NYCsubway.org]

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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s
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Illustration for article titled 37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

All images via NYCsubway.org

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DISCUSSION

Two comments and a question:

One, it always makes me laugh when people are nostalgic for something they don't know anything about. I'm a twentysomething who lives in DC, and I've been here 5 years. Even in those 5 years the city has changed SO much. I live in a neighborhood I never would have walked around in when I first moved here - that's how rapidly the city is gentrifying, for lack of a better word. Was at the bar talking to a few random kids my age who were talking about how much cooler it would have been to live here when 'everything was cheap and edgy' aka when DC was the murder capitol of the USA. How stupid. NYC was a shithole back in the day and I can't imagine anyone would trade 70s and 80s era New York for the safe, epcot version of a city it is today.

Secondly these are great photos. Thanks for posting.

Thirdly, how can you post this without mentioning the amazing 80s graffiti documentary "Getting Up"? Shame.