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With the NY authorities cracking down on subway performers, there is a possibility of an immensely rich subculture being abolished. Read more

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With the NY authorities cracking down on subway performers, there is a possibility of an immensely rich subculture being abolished.

About this project

In the midst of an urgent and alienating reform are New York City’s renowned subway car performers; arrests have trebled in a New York minute with panhandlers, the category including said dancers, currently holding 256 convictions since mid-March. As part of an ongoing series I spent two days befriending and documenting these performers, experiencing first-hand the perspective of both performer and audience - unexpectedly witnessing the remarkable cultural resonance these individuals have in the New York public sphere.

Junior
Junior

Effortlessly showcasing their strength and ability these dancers have perfected the techniques necessary for the subway environment, as well as the more accessible subway stations and streets of New York in general. It seems finding these boys an annoyance however is just cause for the penalty of reckless endangerment. An implicit bias is apparent; as although authorities can seemingly quantify a large sum of complaints, they have no testimonies from those members of the public who have had their quality of life improved by these dynamic harbingers of ‘showtime!’. In a tale of two cities it seems performers are met with the paradox of being both avid contributors to the arts and culture and also criminals forcefully disrupting the comfort of subway passengers.

Brooklyn Bound J Train
Brooklyn Bound J Train

Upon my return from New York I managed to get in touch with one of the main subway car performers about the current situation. He expressed his anger and made clear he had a lot to say about the situation. He showed a lot of interest in working together on the next part of this ongoing series which is what made me start this Kickstarter. 

With your help I hope to return to the city for a more substantial amount of time to document this subculture in greater depth and give the performers a voice on this topic. Although they are in a city where they get incredible exposure, it is those members of the city who see them on a daily basis who have been driven to complain. I felt it was my responsibility to document and show a larger audience the depth to the dancing, and how it is not simply a nuisance, but a lifestyle which has been passed from generation to generation. I aim to cover more aspects of the current situation by interviewing more people directly involved and other's involved more indirectly.

The funding will go towards  equipment rental costs, specifically a higher end camera with better slow motion capabilities. The more funding I get, the better the equipment I will be able to rent, and the further I will be able to push the film.

Shariffe, Brooklyn
Shariffe, Brooklyn

Risks and challenges

During filming, I relied completely on myself to approach these performers and gain their trust. I have now passed this stage; getting to know the bigger characters within the subculture and showing them what potential can be harnessed by our working together. I recently spoke to one of the most talented subway dancers in the scene, who, along with his crew, is keen to work with me on the next film. Showing these dancers my work and what I hope to achieve, regarding this new law, I have been in contact with many who are increasingly keen on becoming involved. Although I am currently relying on a verbal promise from these performers, to participate in the film, the correspondence I have achieved with them so far has made me very confident that there will be key figures involved in the film.

The reasoning behind this project is to illustrate what effect Section 1050.6(c) may have on this part of New York City’s street culture. Because of the recent efforts to enforce this law on a more regular basis, I cannot predict what will happen whilst filming with regards to arrests. I can also not predict how the police will respond to myself if present and filming; whether they will take the footage or even take further action. I have looked into these risks and have accepted them as part of the process, although if I am unfortunate enough to find myself in this situation, footage may potentially be lost. If it begins to happen on a regular basis I will reassess the process of filming and locations and work the film around this. This said, having a camera present will not encourage the dancers to do anything out of the ordinary, as their performances are their livelihood and continue on with or without photo-documentation.

After recently contacting one of the performers to get an update on the current situation, he informed me very few people are dancing on the subway cars anymore. It appears that within three months huge changes have occurred, and dancers have been forced to stop. Despite this I plan to push the film as far as possible, exploring the effects the law has had, and hopefully capture one last bit of dancing in the cars themselves.

I have decided to approach the entire project in sections, using this first campaign to fund costs for the equipment rental. I feel by doing this, and by working on it through stages, there is less risk of major issues occurring. This way I will be able to judge how successful the filming goes, and decide from their whether or not to produce the film myself, or start another campaign to help fund the videos production.

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Funding period

- (20 days)