City Metro: Jamel Shabazz’s ode to New York’s Subway

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The American photographer’s new photo book brings together images spanning over 30 years, capturing the beauty of his city’s many communities

For many, New York City’s subway system is simply a means of getting from A to B. Its 36 lines connect eight million residents from across the city’s five boroughs, shuttling them from the upper reaches of yhe Bronx, beneath the skyscrapers of Manhattan, then east to Queens, south to Brooklyn, and across the ferry to Staten Island.

But, down its concrete stairs, within graffitied tunnels and dusty carriages, Jamel Shabazz saw something more. He saw moments of joy between friends and families, looks of lust between lovers, the exhaustion of worn-out workers and late-night dancers, and extraordinary performers who brought the subway to life. What Shabazz captured for over 30 years is the beauty of the city’s many communities, and the extent to which the transport system serves as a fundamental part of urban life.

Made between 1980 and 2018, Shabazz’s images are now collated into a new book, City Metro. For the American photographer, the subway represented a pathway for new encounters. He began his study in the 1980s and has routinely photographed its activity ever since, spending countless hours underground, often favouring the lines where he may cross familiar faces.

An active photographer for 45 years, Shabazz made a name for himself during a thriving era for street photography, as one of the few Black photographers working in New York.  In 2018, Shabazz was awarded a Gordon Parks Foundation Award, and his work has gained international recognition through nine published monographs, and included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

City Metro by Jamel Shabazz is published by Galerie Bene Taschen.

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.