This photo essay is based on an assignment Idris produced for the MatadorU Travel Photography course.

UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES, the sound of iron rubbing together, rattling and screeching, would be irritating — like fingernails on a chalkboard. But like many New Yorkers, I find a surreal comfort in that sound. It means I’m one step closer — to home, to family, to happy hour. Just closer.


Watching her wait

Not everyone likes to be photographed by strangers. Especially not in a city as proud and paranoid as New York City. But every once in a while, a random stranger will do me a favor and allow just enough time to compose the shot. The older woman here waited at the bottom of the staircase as I carefully adjusted my settings. Almost immediately, the train arrived and our impromptu photo session faded away and blended into the darkness of the subway tunnels.


Curious kid

There's so much going on in New York City, above and below ground. From the bottom of the steps, I watched this family descending into the subway. The young boy is equally excited to go down into the subway as he is intrigued by what is going on above ground. I can only imagine the mystery he sees in the underground world below.



The subway has a way of expanding and contracting. Rush hour can make the train feel like you're in a clown car. With a hundred clowns. And then, there are moments when you're the only person waiting for a train that never seems to come. I was able to capture the solitude of this woman while we both waited for trains on our individual islands.


B-boy break

Talent lives and breathes in every crevice of New York City, but the subway is the main stage for many street performers. Due to the low light in the subway, I bumped my ISO to 1600 and captured this dancer in mid-step between a group of fellow onlookers.


The art of rushing

Every second counts as a commuter in New York City during rush hour. 30 seconds too slow can cost you 30 minutes. Go with the flow of traffic and be quick about it: You may get knocked down, cursed out, or miss your train if you're too slow. But there is an art to this rush-hour dance. Move with the melody.



There is a sense of triumph when you catch a train right before the door closes, which is why many people leap whole flights of steps, dodge elders, and somersault over baby carriages in pursuit of victory. But sometimes, we're in a rush to go nowhere in particular.


Between the lines

While waiting on the platform, this woman peacefully reading her book caught my eye. She was wearing all black, matching the black cover of her book. I knew instantly that I wanted to capture the scene with the platform as her backdrop. What I really appreciate is that she saw me taking photos of her and just stood, reading her book.


Last look

When the train pulled up, I was busy taking photos. The door opened and I turned to look inside the train. This man saw me with my camera and gave me the "you-better-not-take-a-picture-of-me" look. I pretended to look away, but turned at the last minute to capture his eye looking directly at me as the door closed.


Sunset tracks

Not every train in New York travels above ground. I am fortunate to ride one of those trains on my regular commute. Each time the train slowly crawls out of the tunnel, making its way to the outside world, I get the great feeling that I am one step closer to home.



Empty train platforms are rare in a city this populated and busy. I am a fan of the quiet grittiness of the platform when the commute takes a breather. You forget that 10 minutes ago, there were 100 people elbowing their way onto a packed car. You remember that in another 10 minutes, another 100 people will be pushing their way off the train in a rush to get home. The cycle is continuous. I look for the quiet times in between to bring balance to my everyday commute.

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