Underground New York Public Library

The Underground New York Public Library is a visual library featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC subways.
This project is not affiliated with The New York Public Library

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Common Questions

When did the Underground New York Public Library Start?

The photographic process started in 2008. You can see the first sketches in this Facebook album

Are all of your photos candid?

"Candid" is a tricky term to define. I shoot scenes that are of the moment. Sometimes I go completely unnoticed. Sometimes I’m seen before or after I take the shot. I may affect the environment and even the expressions of the subjects at times, but the results are still not a construct of my own doings. It’s the moment itself that takes the initiative. 

Is it wrong to take photographs of people without their permission?

Legally, it’s not wrong. There are legal limits to what I can do with the photographs but none of those things are things I’m doing or interested in doing. 

Ethically, it’s a gray area. The ethics of Street Photography is a topic that I continue to reflect on. I’m not running amok taking photographs without any regard for my subjects. Street Photography is a complex art form with its own subtle language of communication. I listen to cues when I see them and I present my subjects respectfully. For an alternative answer to this question click here

How do you know the title of a book when the cover isn’t visible in the picture?

The moment continues after I take the shot.If the book cover wasn’t visible when I took the photograph, it either was visible before or after I took the shot. Or, I made some other kind of effort to get the title such as asking the reader what they’re reading. I record the titles in a date oriented notepad on my iPhone which I then match with the EXIF data of the photographs.

Why don’t you list the train or station where the photograph was taken?

At one pointI was writing down the train line or station for each photo. I thought it would be an important component of the project. Recording this information eventually started to reveal interesting things and I concluded that there was something divisive about it. I’m not an anthropologist and revealing the literary side of our socio-economic reality isn’t my goal. I want to create a portrait of us that makes a simple statement: we’re all involved in the story. 

People who read have become such an anomaly that we’re now interested in pictures of this dying breed. How sad is that?

I hope we’re not only interested in anomalies. Reading isn’t an anomaly and it probably never will be. This project isn’t trying to document something rare. It’s an attempt to reveal us as we are. 

What equipment do you use?

I use the Canon 5D Mark II with a 24- 105 mm f/4 lens. I don’t switch lenses. I never use flash. I shoot in RAW format so that I have more room to adjust exposure. I process all of my photos in Adobe Lightroom for light and color tone. 

Did you study photography in school?

No.I studied Comparative Literature, Philosophy, and History.  I’m versed in photographic technique. I’m conscious of the rules but I break them if the moment calls for it. Street Photography is an uncontrolled endeavor, especially underground, on moving trains, crowded platforms, and barely lit subways. My efforts are always towards producing high quality images. My priority though is to capture a glimpse of us, even if it means some image noise, blown pixels, or an unexpected visual ratio.    

You’re not a photojournalist, you’re not an anthropologist… what are you?

I’m your fellow human being. I’m an artist and a storyteller.I work with multiple mediums.

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