Skift Take

MTA's Flickr page started attracting fans last year with rare photos of an empty city during Hurricane Sandy. It has since chronicled the current-day construction of the NYC transit system, a digital time capsule that will surely be looked at for generations to come.

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a secret weapon that helps keep it relevant to transit riders who spend more time looking at their phones than where they’re going on subways, buses, and trains.

The organization’s Flickr page is filled with stunning photos that give viewers a look at tunnels that will one day become the 2nd Avenue subway line, the workers that spend nights and weekends on repairs, and the transit stations that stood ghostly empty during Hurricane Sandy.

MTA’s staff photographer Patrick Cashin joined the organization full-time in 2010 and has since posted several Flickr albums a month with photos of construction work and MTA events.

Cashin tells Skift in an interview, full text below, that he took many safety courses that allow him to access city projects that few other photographers can.

“I know my images help New Yorkers understand what is going on underneath their feet everyday,” says Cashin.

Bringing the Photos to Light

Cashin’s photos as well as those from freelance photographers are shared across MTA’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter stream.

MTA’s social media manager Meredith Daniels says the organization’s accounts are less customer-service oriented than those of other MTA agencies, including the LIRR and Metro-North.

“People following us are more subway customers, local New Yorkers,” explains Daniels.

“It’s a look that they are never going to be able to get somewhere else. No one else is getting access to the construction projects.”

Photographing Underground

Photographer Patrick Cashin answered several of Skift’s questions via email as we sought out the man behind some of the rarest New York City photographs on the Web.

Skift: What type of photography were you working on prior to joining the MTA?

Patrick Cashin: Prior to the MTA, I worked at Newsweek magazine for 16 years. My primary duties were processing the film and printing images of photojournalists from around the world. In addition, I did photograph for the Newsweek Special Advertising Supplements. Also, I was send around the world photographing for the United States Naval Reserves and the Air National Guard.

Skift: What are you most often trying to capture when photographing MTA construction or events?

Patrick Cashin: For the MTA construction site I try to show the enormous size of the projects. How hard it is to work in some of the conditions and spaces the Sand Hogs have to work in. The progress being make by the MTA in completing the projects on time. For Hurricane Sandy, I first tried to show how the MTA was preparing for a major weather event. Then during and after the storm, showing the damage and how the MTA was reacting to and correcting the flooring conditions in the subway tubes and car tunnels. For press conferences, I try and show the effort the MTA leadership takes in getting the proper information out to the press and public.

Skift: Are you ever in danger while photographing construction work or events like Hurricane Sandy?

Patrick Cashin: I never feel that I am in danger while working, but I know I am working in dangerous environments. When one works around heavy equipment and train tracks, you watch where you step and pay attention to what is going on around you.

Skift: What type of training did you have to undergo?

Patrick Cashin: I had to go through each railroad agencies’ (NYC Transit, Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road) track safety course. Harness training to be able to climb the cables on the bridges. And more recently Air Respirator Breathing training to photograph the repair work being done under the East River.

Skift: How do you think the images change New Yorkers’ perception of the transit system?

Patrick Cashin: I know my images help New Yorkers understand what going on underneath their feet everyday. More people had no idea the extent of the MTA Capital Construction Mega-Projects. My images help them see the size and depth of the future subway stations caverns, the Tunnel Boring Machine creating new track tunnels. My photographs also help them understand why it takes time to repair the damage from Hurricane Sandy when they can see with their own eyes the amount of devastation created by the water.

Skift: Is there any MTA construction activity that you are unable to photograph?

Patrick Cashin: NO.

Flickr’s blog profiled Cashin in a video released in June 2013. Watch him talk about chronicling the construction of the 2nd Avenue subway line below:

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Tags: mta, nyc, subway

Photo credit: Metro-North Railroad crews at work on Tue., December 3, 2013 repairing a damaged section of track after a derailment near the Spuyten-Duyvil station on Sunday, in preparation for limited restoration of service on the Hudson Line Wednesday morning. Patrick Cashin / MTA

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