Hindsight and Tunnel Vision

Tunnel People

By William Meyers
Wall Street Journal
December 4, 2010

Teun Voeten: Tunnel People

Umbrage Gallery 

111 Front St., Ste. 208,
Brooklyn, NY

(212) 796-2707

Through Dec. 30

“Tunnel People” is a social documentary project, in the tradition of Jacob Riis’s “How the Other Half Live” and Dorothea Lange’s “American Exodus”: It exposes us to people in straitened circumstances and advocates for their relief. Teun Voeten’s tunnel runs under the esplanade in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. Mr. Voeten, who studied anthropology and philosophy in the Netherlands, lived, worked and slept in the tunnel for five months in 1994. These 25 pictures were shot during that period and after the tunnel dwellers’ eviction in 1996.

The primary function of a documentary photograph is to convey information. Mr. Voeten shows us the shadowy underground world his people live in, their proximity to the Amtrak trains that speed through the tunnel, their makeshift quarters, and the rubble that is everywhere. He also follows them as they collect the empty cans and bottles to redeem. There are pictures of them at the community agencies trying to integrate them back into society. Beauty is beside the point, but the shot of a distant subterranean figure caught in the light of a ventilation grating is quite striking, and the faces of many of these men are rendered memorably.

Back to Teun Voeten’s Author Page