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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2012 Highlights from the Underground New York Public Library

Here are ten highlights from almost one thousand photographs that have become part of the UNYPL in 2012. Each photo posted in the library is beloved. The Reading-Riders have thoroughly inspired me, in their presence and in their act of transcendence. Photographing and interacting with them in the past year has impacted me as a photographer and as a person.To them, Thank you!

Sharing the UNYPL has been so rewarding. It became part of everyday to hear from those who were inspired in one way or another by the people in the photographs. I love the idea that we inspire each other, that we experience others and we become greater for it. Thank you to everyone who has liked, shared, responded and written over the past year. You helped me build this library and I’m looking forward to taking it into 2013.

New posts will begin after Jan. 1st. A Happy and fulfilling New Year to everyone!

  1. "Ask the Dust," by John Fante
  2. "Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good", by Kevin Smith
  3.  "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued," by Ann Crittenden 
  4. "Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits," by Jack Murnighan 
  5. "Othello" by William Shakespeare 
  6.  "To the Finland Station ," by Edmund Wilson
  7. "Bared to You," by Sylvia Day
  8. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," by Harriet Jacobs
  9. "Don’t Be Sad," by Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni
  10. "The Savage Detectives," by Roberto Bolaño

UNYPL in 2012: Kids

It was an extra pleasure to photograph and interact with these reading-riders. From the past year, here are the kids in the Underground New York Public Library:

  1. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw," by Jeff Kinney &"Warriors," by Erin Hunter
  2. "Blueberries for Sal," by Robert McCloskey
  3. "The Year of the Hangman," by Gary Blackwood
  4. "Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy," by Tui T. Sutherland
  5. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone," by J.K. Rowling
  6. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel," by Jeff Kinney
  7. "Callie’s Rules," by Naomi Zucker
  8. "The Mother-Daughter Book Club," by Heather Vogel Frederick
  9. "The Adventures of Tintin," by Hergé
  10. eReader

UNYPL in 2012: Orthodox Jews: What Are They Reading? 

I ventured into the Underground Library in part as a tribute to the role of literature in my life. Literature, and the subways, connected me to a larger world. I come from an orthodox background and I thought I’d leave that world alone with my photography. This wasn’t possible to do in the UNYPL though, as Orthodox Jews turned out to be a prevalent part of those who are reading underground. At first, I was hesitant about my relationship with these readers. It was a personal journey, but taking these photographs gave way to a new perspective for me, a new relationship from behind the camera. It’s one more aspect of the UNYPL that I’m grateful for. 

1-4: The Talmud

The Talmud is the most popular text that I’ve noticed with demonstrably Orthodox Jews underground. It’s an extensive work, carried and studied in separate volumes. Assembled over the course of five hundred years, it’s essentially like a great discussion forum that examines all aspects of the Torah and of Jewish life. 

5-7: The Torah

There was an interesting response when I posted photos of Orthodox Jews reading the Torah. I received messages that suggested I might have been mistaken in identifying the book. While the Talmud is studied religiously and daily, the Torah itself isn’t. I’m very careful about the titles though, and I don’t post if I’m in doubt. These people were reading the Torah, but, without exception, the photos of them were taken only on a Thursday evening or a Friday morning. Turns out that in preparation for the weekly Sabbath, when a Torah portion is read in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews can be found studying the Torah directly. 

8: "Catching Fire," by Suzanne Collins

This reader is wearing a Kippah, indicating that he might be orthodox*. Catching Fire would be regarded as a secular text in an orthodox world. Some Orthodox Jews refrain from reading secular texts, preferring to immerse themselves only in their tradition. Others appreciate it, and some even laud secular literature as a means towards greater spiritual heights. 

9: The Passover Haggadah 

A seasonal photo, this was taken a few days before the Passover holiday. The Haggadah discusses the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. One of the important aspects of the Passover holiday is the relaying of the historical account, and this man was reading the Haggadah, with commentary, in preparation for doing just that. 

10: The Shulchan Aruch, by Rabbi Yosef Karo

The Shulchan Aruch is the definitive text of practical Jewish Law. In it are the rules for how to conduct oneself in every facet of life. These people were the first Orthodox Jews that came to the UNYPL. I was trying unsuccessfully to photograph someone reading Julius Caesar,  when they offered me to photograph them instead. You can read a short anecdote about it here.  

*edited from my assumption that he was orthodox. 

UNYPL in 2012: Portraits

There is so much life underground, and I usually seek to incorporate it, along with the reader, into a storytelling frame. Sometimes though, a simple portrait of a reader seems to tell enough of a story. Here are ten direct portraits of readers from the past year: 

  1. ‎”What Jackie Taught Us”, by Tina Santi Flaherty
  2. "Half of a Yellow Sun," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  3. "Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery," by Chogyam Trungpa
  4. "The Supermale," by Alfred Jarry
  5. "Sexing the Cherry," by Jeanette Winterson
  6. "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept," by Elizabeth Smart
  7. "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," by Anne Tyler
  8. "A Wrinkle in Time," by Madeleine L’Engle
  9. "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void," by Mary Roach
  10. "Good Omens," by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

UNYPL in 2012: The Walkers

It’s a unique moment when I come across the walking readers. I see them suddenly, and then there are just a few strides left to take the picture candidly. Most of the time I catch up with them after they’ve already passed me by, to find out what they’re reading. Here they are from the past year, the walkers of the Underground Library: 

  1. "A Clash of Kings," by George R.R. Martin 
  2. "Devil’s Gate," by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown
  3. "The Casual Vacancy," by J. K. Rowling
  4. "Mary, Mary," by James Patterson
  5. "Madame Bovary," by Gustave Flaubert
  6. "The Summer Book," by Tove Jansson
  7. "The Mother-Daughter Book Club," by Heather Vogel Frederick
  8. "Savor the Moment," by Nora Roberts 
  9. "Playing for Pizza", by John Grisham
  10. "The Proposal," by Mary Balogh 

July 2012 Highlights from the Underground New York Public Library

Each one was its own moment. It’s great to see them all together.

1. "The God Delusion," by Richard Dawkins 2. "The Birth of Tragedy," by Friedrich Nietzsche 3. "Mary Poppins," by Dr. P. L. Travers 4. "The Stranger Beside Me," by Ann Rule 5. "Queer," by William S. Burroughs 6. "Just My Type: A Book About Fonts," by Simon Garfield 7. "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept," by Elizabeth Smart 8. "Know Thyself," by Na’im Akbar 9. "Star Wars (The Old Republic): Fatal Alliance," by Sean Williams  10. "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," by Anne Tyler

I’m looking forward to the new characters who will come with their books to the Underground New York Public Library in August!     

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