The Operating System

ART: "Meet Miss Subways!" Photography, History and Identity :: Fiona Gardner

Angela Vorsteg Norris Miss Subways March 1950

If you’re not from around here, you may not know that Meet Miss Subways is more than a Ferlinghetti poem.
And, as such, you may not know that
Miss Subways was a title accorded to individual New York City women between 1941 and 1976. The woman who was “Miss Subways” at any one time appeared on posters placed on New York City Subway trains, along with a brief description of her. The program was run by the ad agency “New York Subways Advertising”.
To be eligible, a woman had to be a New York City resident and herself use the subway. Winners were usually chosen by telephone-based voting, from among a group of contenders whose photos were all placed on the subways; the nominees were chosen by John Robert Powers, a modelling agent.”
{thank you, Wikipedia!}
I’m a sucker for New York memorabilia, and photographic projects examining identity, place, and culture, so when I happened upon Fiona Gardner’s series — in which she documents, via striking, technicolor-esque present day portraits and tells the stories of former “Miss Subways,” alongside the now-dated newspaper clippings introducing these “girls” to an adoring city — I immediately rang her (um, or, since it’s not 1960, I messaged her on facebook, where I found her through our mutual friend, painter and herbalist Michael Viola).

As her Kickstarter Campaign explains, Gardner’s book is being published by Seapoint Press and will be the subject of an exhibition at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn New York in November 2012. Her images speak to more than the book verbalizes, evoking and calling to the fore not only the shifting cultural norms of femininity, beauty, and race that were so marked in the decades this contest ran, but also our own relationship to aesthetic appreciation and aging – something she handles with remarkable grace and frankness, in photographs that deserve successful publication and attention. Please support her campaign, and look for the upcoming exhibit this fall!

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