Pedestrians in New York don’t spend too much time looking down, except perhaps to avoid something slippery or disgusting. I, along with the rest of them, rarely gave more than the briefest glance to New York’s manholes, steel cylinders flush with the street or sidewalk that conceal vast unknown worlds of water mains, sewers, electrical and telephone cables, and abandoned tunnels. One of the themes of several of my recent projects is the stuff that people step on, ignore and — if not ignored — don’t view as interesting or attractive. The textures of the manholes, the way the metal reflects the sun, the history revealed in their writing — all of this fascinated me. The corrosion and rust also make each one unique, even if many identical ones initially emerged from the foundry. The oldest manhole that I was able to photograph was from 1887. How many people must have stepped on this or on some of the other most eroded ones? The images in this series are almost all from Manhattan, but I have included a few pictures of manholes from Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, Norway, and the Netherlands. These show that the manhole encapsulates histories of place that are often embedded deep in the unconscious of the people who daily walk over them.
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