The Tunnel: The Underground Homeless of New York City (Architecture of Despair)

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9780300065596: The Tunnel: The Underground Homeless of New York City (Architecture of Despair)

One of the oldest surviving homeless communities in New York City has been hidden from public view in an underground train tunnel since the 1970s. Residents dwell in continual darkness along the two-and-a-half mile stretch, which is penetrated only by shafts of light angling through air vents. The residents who have been there longest live alongside the tracks in cinder block bunkers originally used by railroad personnel. Other residents are hidden high above the tracks in recessed niches that are accessible only by climbing. More recent tunnel dwellers have built freestanding structures in the dark alcoves of the tunnel or perched themselves on concrete ledges. This work, the first in a group of three books documenting the lives and living spaces of New York City's homeless population, is narrated entirely by tunnel residents. Margaret Morton's photographs combine with four years of audiotaped oral histories to create an archive of individuals living in an extraordinary social, political and economic condition.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Morton's four-year photographic journey takes place in a structure that was created by Robert Moses in 1934 in order to hide the Hudson River Railroad from the expensive apartments on Riverside Drive. When the rail line was closed down in the 1970s, this concrete tunnel stretching from 72nd Street to 125th Street along the Hudson River became a shelter for a large community of homeless people who are now being forced out as a result of neighborhood pressure. Using both text and 60 duotone photographs, Morton offers a sympathetic, multidimensional and powerfully humane portrait of this invisible neighborhood. Many residents have lived in the tunnel for 10 years or more, creating homes which in both cleanliness and amenities (appliances, pets, art?one residence includes a wall-sized mural based on Goya's moving May 3, 1808) disprove many common assumptions about the homeless. The text, drawn from interviews with the tunnel's residents, is a poignant sometimes surprisingly optimistic accompaniment to her pictures of a persistently nocturnal place pierced by rays of light. "Once the weather really breaks and gets warm, certain seeds will drop through the grate from up top and things sprout over there," says one resident, adding, "I always throw the melon seeds of the watermelon, and they sprout and the vines will grow down the hill. And they always end up dying, but whatever. It's just good to see something green over there. That's why I do it all the time." This is an impressive suite of photographs and voices that need to be seen and heard.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal:

Like a present-day Jacob Riis, Morton (art, Cooper Union) seeks to bring to light the hidden lives of New York City's desperately poor. In an Amtrak tunnel, stretching 50 blocks under the West Side Highway beside the Hudson River, a group of homeless have managed to carve out for themselves a community unlike any other in New York. Morton enters their lives and their cavernous, dark, and often well-appointed dwellings. Living as scavengers, they have managed to find furniture and pots and pans. They recycle cans to buy food and sometimes liquor and drugs. Morton combines photographs of the tunnel with soliloquys from 14 residents, who discuss their lives and jobs before the tunnel, plans for life afterwards, and the reasons they arrived there in the first place. At times it seems that their musings are edited to hold the reader's sympathy; however, by and large, the accounts feel genuine. The reproductions of Morton's well-composed photographs are a little flat. Recommended for urban studies collections.?Adam Mazmanian, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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