Daily Picture Show

The Urban Cave

When students at the International Center of Photography were given an assignment to interpret "New York Underground," Andrea Star Reese went into the train tunnels to photograph the people who live there. Her resulting series "The Urban Cave: the other side" is an intimate look at the men and women who spend their lives on the fringes of society. She shows people at their most vulnerable, but photographs them with respect.

"What fascinated me is that this culture is a part of us, and apart from us. They are neither more than us nor less than us. And nothing is simple in the street," she said.

Chuck and Lisa were the first people Reese met in the tunnels in 2007, and through her relationship with them, she gained access to more of the homeless community. She spent months gaining their trust.

Editor's Note: Viewers may find some images graphic in nature.

  • Chuck reads a book while waiting for his companion Lisa.
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    Chuck reads a book while waiting for his companion Lisa.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Chuck and Lisa in their home in the Amtrak tunnel. Lisa is pregnant. She has lived on the street for more than 20 years.
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    Chuck and Lisa in their home in the Amtrak tunnel. Lisa is pregnant. She has lived on the street for more than 20 years.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Lisa and Chuck eat a meal in a Chinese restaurant.
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    Lisa and Chuck eat a meal in a Chinese restaurant.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Chuck collects abandoned utility cables to strip and sell for scrap metal.
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    Chuck collects abandoned utility cables to strip and sell for scrap metal.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Chuck visits the site of his first home in the Amtrak Tunnel. He occasionally comes to check for signs of occupancy.
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    Chuck visits the site of his first home in the Amtrak Tunnel. He occasionally comes to check for signs of occupancy.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Lisa leaves her home in the tunnel for shelter housing that she'll share with her companion Chuck. They are on a list to receive an apartment.
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    Lisa leaves her home in the tunnel for shelter housing that she'll share with her companion Chuck. They are on a list to receive an apartment.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Snow White.
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    Snow White.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Jimbo. Formerly from West Virginia's coal mines, now homeless in New York City.
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    Jimbo. Formerly from West Virginia's coal mines, now homeless in New York City.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Willy Colon.
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    Willy Colon.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Krissy.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • A makeshift shower is constructed from a broken pipe.
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    A makeshift shower is constructed from a broken pipe.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Country sits in his home in a derelict sanitation facility he calls "The Whitehouse."
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    Country sits in his home in a derelict sanitation facility he calls "The Whitehouse."
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Country and Snow White.
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    Country and Snow White.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Snow White sweeps litter on the dead-end street known as "The Bat Cave." The street is swept daily to keep down rats and flies. Country and Tasha talk in the background.
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    Snow White sweeps litter on the dead-end street known as "The Bat Cave." The street is swept daily to keep down rats and flies. Country and Tasha talk in the background.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese
  • Country watches the river from his home in a building known as "The Whitehouse." Country is waiting for the return of a whale that he says has visited before.
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    Country watches the river from his home in a building known as "The Whitehouse." Country is waiting for the return of a whale that he says has visited before.
    Photos by Andrea Star Reese

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"There was a beauty and humanity that I found that I wanted to show and report," she said. "I felt protective of them because I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy subject."

The series shows Chuck and Lisa at home in the tunnel, eating at a restaurant, and having a candid moment play-fighting on the street. It also shows people such as Country, Snow White and Krissy, sleeping, struggling and simply trying to survive. The images are dark, but the moments are real, and Reese preserves the dignity of her subjects by photographing them without passing judgment.

"I communicated to them that I respect them on their worst day, I respect them on their best day, and there is nothing that I could see or hear that will change that,” she said.

Lisa at home in a New York train tunnel. i i

Lisa at home in a New York train tunnel. Andrea Star Reese hide caption

itoggle caption Andrea Star Reese
Lisa at home in a New York train tunnel.

Lisa at home in a New York train tunnel.

Andrea Star Reese

Andrea Star Reese received her BFA and MFA from California Institute of the Arts school of Film/Video. In 2008 she graduated from the International Center of Photography’s Documentary Photography and Photojournalism program. In 2010 her work will be exhibited at as part of the traveling show Regeneration2 premièring at Musee de l’Elysee, Lausanne. A slide show selection from the series "The Urban Cave: the other side" will be projected in Sao Paulo, Brazil as part of “Cidade Galeria”.

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