Photos From 1966 Capture New York City's Subway Commuters In Full Colour

Danny Lyon was famous for his work photographing the civil rights movement in the south and motorcycle gangs in Chicago. 

When he returned to New York, his mother told him, if ever got bored, he should “just talk to someone on the subway.” 

We’re not sure if he ever took his mother’s advice and talked to the straphangers, but he sure did take some beautiful pictures of them.

The result is a photo series he called “Underground: 1966,” which features eight pictures Lyon took candidly of travellers on the New York City Subway system in Brooklyn during New Year’s Eve in 1966.

The series is now being exhibited for the very first time, and will be on display in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway station for the next year. 

“Brooklyn is changing very rapidly and so many newcomers have joined longtime residents among the 40,000 people who use the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station every day,” Lester Burg, senior manager of MTA Arts & Design, said in statement. “‘Underground: 1966’ is a great opportunity to show them how it used to be, and to show off the work of a groundbreaking photographer who was born in Brooklyn.”

Lyon was methodical in his approach to the photographs, like any true artist. For his artist’s tools, he used a Rolleiflex camera with colour translucency film. 

He didn’t use a tripod for any of the photos (they weren’t allowed on the subway), even when the frame had moving objects, which created a blur effect on some of the photos featuring motion. He told that, since the colour film was slow, he leaned on poles to keep his camera steady.

This artistic choice perfectly captured the hustle and bustle of the subway system. It also makes the surreal somber faces of his subjects pop that much more against the blur of movement.

Though Lyon no longer uses a Rolleiflex, he told he still sometimes takes pictures of commuters traversing the city on the subway.

“I find sitting across from people as they move through the city fascinating, and I often take out my iPhone, hoping to make a portrait unobserved,” he said. “But it’s very hard to do.”

See the rest of Lyon’s amazing photographs below:

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