Decaying Subway Posters Become Art in DNAinfo Photographer's Exhibition

By Serena Solomon on July 10, 2014 8:44am 

LOWER EAST SIDE — While covering stories often filled with the grim details of New York City crime, Ben Fractenberg, a general assignment reporter and photographer for DNAinfo New York, found respite in an odd way — photographing aging and peeling subway posters.

Since 2011, he has been documenting the decaying advertisements as he traversed the city in a workday that could also include reporting on murder charges, staking out a crime scene or interviewing and photographing parents mourning the death of a child.

"I think part of [the poster photography] was to have a little bit of a break from it," said Fractenberg, 35, a staff member at DNAinfo since 2010. "Often I am photographing things that are kind of depressing."

Starting Thursday, 14 of the subway art photos will be on display for Fractenberg's second exhibit, "Layered City," at the Mark Miller Gallery on Orchard Street near Delancey Street.

"I think a lot of people looking at them are surprised they are photos," said Fractenberg, who lives in Fort Greene. "They look at them and think they are paintings."

As the posters age, sections begin to peel back revealing a cross-pollination of textures, colors and images. This mash-up of advertisements from past and present is where Fractenberg focuses his lens.

The result is an image devoid of context, allowing spectators to forget they are viewing eroding subway posters.

"It's almost abstract impressionism," Fractenberg said.

Mark Miller, owner of the Mark Miller Gallery, praised the images that evoke paintings by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

"It is almost like he is painting with his camera," Miller said.

While most New Yorkers may speed through the subway in a blind rush, Miller said Fractenberg's photos help to show a side of New York that's worth noticing.

"He grabbed what I consider to be New York City subway treasure," Miller said.

The "Layered City" exhibit features photos taken at many subway stations, including the C train stop at 103rd street on the Upper West Side and the E stop near Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens.

The artistic value of decaying posters varies across New York City's subway system, according to Fractenberg. He said he found posters with the most intricate layers and a heightened degree of decay in stations with the fewest riders, making the locations possibly less valuable to advertisers.

At these less-traveled stations, the posters at the ends of platforms also had the best chance of landing in a photo, Fractenberg said. 

"They [the posters] tended to have a uniqueness to them," Fractenberg said. 

"Layered City" runs at the Mark Miller Gallery, 92 Orchard St., from July 10 - Aug. 10.

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