These two photographs are from a group of some two thousand that were commissioned by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) to document the construction of the first official subway line in New York City, which opened in 1904. The line connected City Hall to Times Square via Fourth Avenue (now Lexington Avenue) and then ran up Broadway. While the upper photograph shows the early phases of construction of the underground subway line, the other picture, taken in 1906, documents the subsequent construction of the eastside "el," or elevated line. Although we do not know who took these photographs, they appear to be the work of a single individual with a fine sense of composition and keen eye for detail. The fact that they were produced as platinum prints rather than as gelatin silver prints also suggests an artistic sensibility at work. Like Eugène Atget, who photographed the streets of Paris during the same years, this photographer recorded the rapidly changing face of the city, imbuing his images with an understated lyricism that transcends their function as documentation.
W. R. C. (American, active ca. 1900s–1930s)