Exhibition Logo that reads "New York Subways 197 Alen MacWeeney," and includes colorful lines that reference subway lines

Alen MacWeeney (b. 1939, Dublin) began his photography career in Ireland working as a press photographer and freelancing for fashion magazines, before moving to New York City in 1961 to be an assistant for the celebrated photographer Richard Avedon. Despite his early work in the worlds of fashion and studio photography, MacWeeney’s eye has always been drawn more to the everyday moment. In the late 1970s, he regularly rode the subway between his East Village apartment and locations uptown with his Leica M4 camera in hand, taking photographs along the way. He was initially dissatisfied with the darkroom results, until he noticed one photograph lying on top of another. The accidental resulting image, says MacWeeney, “took on a life of its own. It looked better than the picture on the left or the picture on the right [...] the join made a total picture.”

This exhibition features 42 diptychs from the series New York Subways 1977, in which MacWeeney adjoins two images that share formal similarities or emotional resonances to create subtle and surprising new relationships of movement, gazes, bodies, and architecture. Along with the original gelatin silver diptychs, this exhibition also features two later large-format prints and a unique artist’s book published by MacWeeney and acquired by The New York Public Library in 2023. Taken together, this series presents the New York subway system in 1977 as an extraordinary space of contradictions, just as it is today: millions of people thrust together, each navigating through their private lives in a very public space.

Highlights from the Exhibition

New York Subways 1977: Alen MacWeeney is open through January 7, 2024, in the Print Gallery in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Black and white photograph of two men leaning on columns on the subway platform. The one on the right is noticeably reading a book
Silhouette in Profile, Lex Ave: Bearded Man Reading a Book
Gelatin silver print
1977, printed 1979
Black and white photograph of a woman looking towards the camera from inside the subway cart
Black Woman Through Graffiti Window Is Caught Unaware by Camera: Crowded Group in Car, Woman in Fur Coat and Wool Hat Looks at Camera
Gelatin silver print
1977, printed 1979
Black and white photograph of woman walking in the subway, next to whom there is a poster portraying Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger Poster: Eagles Poster with Elegant Woman
Gelatin silver print
1977, printed 1979
Black and white photograph showcasing a woman seating on a subway on the left, and a man standing wrapped in plastic on the right
Woman with Doll: Beggar Wrapped in Plastic
Gelatin silver print
1977, printed 1979
Black and white photograph set on a subway platform, depicting a couple leaning on the wall on the left, and a woman looking over the rails
Waiting Against the Wall, 59th St: Profile of Wistful-Looking Woman in Striped Coat
Gelatin silver print
1977, printed 1979

Installation Views

New York Subways 1977: Alen MacWeeney is open through January 6, 2024 in the Print Gallery in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the gallery corridor
Photograph of exhibition showing one side of the gallery corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the gallery corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the gallery corridor
Photograph of exhibition showing one side of the gallery corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the gallery corridor

Free Event | Alen MacWeeney in Conversation with Curator Maggie Mustard

Seminar room

Thursday, November 30, 2023, 2 - 3 PM | Lenox and Astor Room (Rm 216), Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Join Alen MacWeeney and NYPL photography curator Maggie Mustard in a conversation about the Library’s new exhibition of his work.

Register Here

About Alen MacWeeney

Photograph of Alen MacWeeney

After working with Richard Avedon, Alen MacWeeney left the world of studio photography and returned home to Dublin in the mid 1960s, acquiring a new 35mm Leica camera. Subjects from this period include itinerant Irish tinker and traveler communities, poetic landscapes inspired by Yeats, and photographs of Amish communities in Pennsylvania. Moving back to New York again in the 1970s, he continued with his now-established signature style of gritty-yet-tender street photography, and produced the subway photographs included in this exhibition. 

Alen MacWeeney is still active, living in New York City and Sag Harbor, and traveling to Ireland often. His work is in the collections of museums, institutional archives, and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (NY), The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Boston College, and The New York Public Library. His entire collection was recently acquired by University College Cork in Ireland, where it will be archived and maintained. In addition to his 2022 artist’s book New York Subways 1977, MacWeeney has also recently published a limited-edition portfolio of photographs taken in 1975 of his friend and fellow photographer Francesca Woodman.

The New York Public Library's Photography Collection acquired 42 of MacWeeney's New York Subways series photographs in 2013, and his unique artist's book, New York Subways 1977, in 2023.

Film| NYC Subways 1977

Hear Alen MacWeeney talk about his New York City Subways 1977 photo series.

COMING SOON: Limited Edition Publication

New York Subways 1977 book by Alen MacWeeney

The has Library produced a limited edition replica copy of MacWeeney's artist book New York Subways 1977. The publication is available only at the NYPL Shop.

Purchase Online

Large Print Labels

Large Print Logo

Access the exhibition's large print labels here:

New York Subways 1977: Alen MacWeeney

A physical copy can be found at the information desk in the McGraw Rotunda.

The New York Subways in NYPL Digital Collections

Screenshot of Digital Collections Homepage

Explore the New York Subways Collection in The New York Public Library's Digital Collections, and learn more about their role in NYPL's Photography Collection in The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.

Learn More About the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs

Photograph of the interior of the The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs

The Photography Collection was created in 1980, when images culled from other NYPL departments and branches were brought together to form a new division that now comprises approximately 500,000 photographs by 6,000 photographers. The Photography Collection encompasses the broadest range of the medium, including images made for commercial, industrial, and scientific application as well as images for the press and other print media, the vernacular of amateur snapshot photography, and original works intended for exhibition and/or the art market. You can access the collection remotely using the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Learn more.

Curatorial Acknowledgements

All exhibitions, no matter the scale, are enormous undertakings of collaborative work, bringing together the wide-ranging talents of dozens of people. I am grateful to everyone within and without the NYPL community who had a hand in helping to care for Alen MacWeeney’s photography as this exhibition came about.   

The invaluable support and guidance of Dr. Elizabeth Cronin, Robert B. Menschel Senior Curator of Photography, made this show possible in the first place. I am likewise grateful for the enthusiastic collaboration and counsel of Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions, throughout the entire process. My colleagues from across the Wallach Division, especially Associate Director Deirdre Donohue and Photography Collection Specialists David Lowe and Zulay Chang, provided daily encouragement. Ian Fowler, Curator of The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division was a delightful and supportive co-conspirator in the inclusion of the Vignelli maps.

Exhibition designers Henk van Asen and Melissa Leone from HvADesign crafted a beautiful, balanced design, bringing historical flavor and color to the gallery walls while still making space for Alen’s photographs to shine. Mim Harrison judiciously reviewed every word and piece of punctuation.  

From Exhibitions, I want to thank the hardworking team of Carl Auge, Jake Hamill, Ryan Douglass, Kels Glaser, Christopher Alzapiedi, and Clayton Skidmore for their meticulous, speedy, and masterful preparation, framing, and hanging; thanks too to Tereza Chanaki and Natalie Ortiz for managing the checklist, the website, and our ever-evolving list of meetings. Most of all, enormous gratitude to Becky Laughner, Manager of Exhibitions, whose eagle eyes and organizational brilliance kept us all on point and on track, and who was always the most trustworthy soundboard for all decisions from loans to design.  

My colleagues in Conservation and the Registrar’s office kept Alen’s work in the greatest of care—thank you to Hanako Murata, Emily Muller, Addison Yu, Beth Brideau, Deborah Straussman, Caryn Gedell, and Martin Branch-Shaw. Thank you also to Dina Selfridge, our superstar of permissions, rights, and reproductions for this exhibition.  

The teams in Communications and Programming have been since the beginning wonderful collaborators on design and outreach, invested in the significance of Alen’s work, and vital to its public accessibility. Thank you to Aidan Flax-Clark, Margie Cook, Susanna Kim, and Grace Wilson from Public Programs, and to Katharina Seifert, Rosalene Labrado-Perillo, Charles Arrowsmith, Allison Palmer, Sara-Beth Joren, and Elizabeth Hays from Creative Services and from Communications.

Elana Sinsabaugh worked closely with Alen to design and print the exhibition edition of his New York Subways 1977 publication, and her foresight and dedication to Alen’s work have made this lovely and very special edition possible. Thank you also to the creative and talented printing by Hervey Townshend and GHP Media.

Finally, my gratitude to Alen MacWeeney, and his partner Pesya Altman. From our first meeting in their apartment over tea and lemon cake, they have been a joy to learn from and work with. Alen’s photographs are the heart of this exhibition, but his generosity, his trust, and his easy way of moving through the world have been the heart of the process. 

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