The Faces Of New York’s Subway Commute

A new video stitches together a portrait of the city based on countless secretly shot photos of people taking the train.

What did 2012 look like on New York City’s subways? From video journalist Rebecca Davis‘s perspective, it was a mix of loneliness, intimacy, exhaustion, and, of course, smart phone-gazing. Davis’s video Commuters 2012 is a voyeuristic glimpse of life in New York’s connective tissue, the subway–hundreds of snapshots of regular people living their lives underground, selected from more than 3,000 photos she took last year.


Working as a video journalist for the New York Daily News, Davis began documenting commuters while she herself was traversing the five boroughs for different stories, often spending more than two hours per day on trains. Explaining the project, she says:

“I became interested in the way in which the dynamics of the train cars changed from line to line, neighborhood to neighborhood, and throughout the seasons. … I was also interested in the very private moments I would often see playing out before me between two people and often with individuals caught in moments deep in their own thoughts–all the while surrounded by strangers.”

She cites Walker Evans’s and Bruce Davidson’s photography of unsuspecting train passengers as inspirations for the project, but updated for the iPhone age.

“So often on the train we bury ourselves in something we’re reading or music we’re listening to and forget to look around and take in some great human drama that is constantly being played out in New York,” Davis says. The best moments in her video are of children and of couples–kissing, laughing, or just sitting there. “I hope it makes people stop and look more deeply into all the different faces and human moments we encounter each day in a city like New York where privacy is hard to come by.”

While Davis’s hidden camera isn’t exactly making it easier to locate privacy, instead, it reflects images familiar to anyone who’s ever passed through New York–in all of its diverse richness. (Perhaps you’ll even find yourself in the video. People looked eerily familiar to me.)

In addition to cutting together footage for Vimeo and YouTube, Davis maintains a fuller photo archive of the project on her Tumblr.


About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in,, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.