Vintage Photos of Life on the Gritty New York City Subway of the Past

Jamel Shabazz New York Street Photography

Jamel Shabazz. Rush Hour, NYC, 1988. (Copyright Jamel Shabazz, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen)

Over time, the name Jamel Shabazz has become synonymous with urban life in New York City. The Brooklyn-born photographer came of age documenting the streets of the city, capturing a critical moment in time when the crack crisis was overtaking New York in the 1980s. Shabazz's raw, unfiltered work has birthed iconic imagery that has immortalized decades of New York City's culture.

City Metro is an exhibition that brings together 30 of Shabazz's photographs. Spanning three decades from the 1980s until the 2000s, the show focuses on his imagery taken inside one of New York's biggest protagonists—the subway. This lifeline of New York City connects all walks of life and Shabazz takes full advantage of this equalizing mode of transport to capture the moods and fashions of its passengers.

“With his unclouded gaze, Shabazz has also captured youth culture with its individual lifestyle and fashion sense,” shares Galerie Bene Taschen, the German gallery hosting the show. “Young people pose before his lens, their gestures underpinning their self-assured presentation. Whether in black and white (silver gelatin print) or color (chromogenic print), the scenes in his visual diary appear as casual observations of random encounters, immortalized through his images.”

Whether jockeying for space during rush hour or walking through the turnstiles, each character in Shabazz's images plays into the photographer's work. With just a smile or by striking a pose, they're in on the game and up for giving the photographer the look he's after. This masterful skill of allowing strangers to open up in front of his lens is part of what sets Shabazz apart as a street photographer. His ability to integrate himself into urban life and to gain the trust of others in a flash allows him to take the iconic photos that make him a legend of New York street photography.

City Metro is on view until February 2, 2019 at Galerie Bene Taschen in Cologne, Germany.

Jamel Shabazz's iconic New York Street photography captures the gritty spirit of urban life.

Jamel Shabazz Photographer

Jamel Shabazz. The Trio, NYC, 1980. (Copyright Jamel Shabazz, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen)

New York in the 80s by Jamel Shabazz

Jamel Shabazz. Untitled, Spanish Harlem, NY 1980 (Copyright Jamel Shabazz, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen)

New York Photos by Jamel Shabazz

Jamel Shabazz. Fly Girl, NYC 2002. (Copyright Jamel Shabazz, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen)

Street Photography by Jamel Shabazz

Jamel Shabazz. Church ladies, Harlem, NYC 1997. (Copyright Jamel Shabazz, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen)

New York in the 80s by Jamel Shabazz

Jamel Shabazz. Twin 1 & Twin 2, Brooklyn, NYC 1980 (Copyright Jamel Shabazz, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen)

Jamel Shabazz: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Galerie Bene Taschen.

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Gritty Photos Capture the Real Street Life of New York in the 1970s

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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