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Reviews for The Tunnel
Margaret Morton
[Yale University Press, fall 1995]

Reviews

This book, the first in a group of three books documenting the lives and living spaces of New York City's homeless population, is narrated entirely by residents of an underground train tunnel, a community that has been hidden from public view for over twenty years. Margaret Morton combines her photographs with four years of audio taped oral histories to create a unique archive of extraordinary individuals living in an extraordinary social, political, and economic condition.

A powerful work, a book that engages and compels and touches deeply. The author/photographer presents material that accomplishes an extraordinary revision or inversion of the typical pathos that colors commonplace depictions of the homeless. Her people invite admiration, not pity.
— Alan Trachtenberg, Yale University

A powerful metaphor of America, Margaret Morton's The Tunnel shows the beauty of people we shun, and the light in a world we cannot see.
— Danny Lyon

The fact that Morton refuses to editorialize or soften the focus of her lens prevents this from being a simple exercise in social conscience - rather than inspiring pity, the book leaves you marvelling at the indomitable spirit of these people, rebuilding their lives in the dark, beneath millions of New Yorkers' indifferent feet.
— Nigel Kendall, Time Out London, January 10-17, 1996

Morton spent six years recording the lives of homeless people in an abandoned New York City underground tunnel, with stark black-and- white images and moving first person stories, from foraging for food to telling jokes to bolster their spirits.
— U.S. News and World Report, February 12, 1996

Morton managed to earn the trust of [the tunnel's] occupants, who told her their stories of lives on the edge. The black-and-white photographs of these underground men (and two women) are remarkable, at once sinister and reassuringly domestic.
— Washington Post Book World

Morton offers a sympathetic, multidimensional and powerfully humane portrait of this invisible neighborhood. . . . This is an impressive suite of photographs and voices that need to be seen and heard."
— Publishers Weekly

This remarkable book is not only a moving tribute to the survival of creativity among people without shelter, work or even adequate food. It should also act as a stimulus to challenge left-wing orthodoxies about 'basic' needs. To Manhattan's poorest citizens, the hunger for beauty seems as much a primal force as the hunger for bread.
— Susan Jeffreys, New Statesman & Society

Margaret Morton mixes gloomy but touching pictures of the people and their dwellings with interviews. The result is a haunting portrait of lives in the (literal) lower depths, now menaced by eviction.
— New Statesman & Society

Out of the dark recesses of the tunnel, Morton has brought forth not so much images of a hellish underworld as pictures of ordinary lives lived in extraordinarily gloomy circumstances. . . . The Tunnel is more than a traditional documentary look at the lives of the poor. It is a work of art.
— Fred Turner, Boston Phoenix

The power of black and white photography is seldom as evident as in The Tunnel. Any one of Morton's shots of this makeshift community brings greater dignity to the plight of the underprivileged than could a dozen blustery proclamations or a thousand redeemable bottles. In Morton's photos, the cold, concrete, infested environment of the tunnel is utterly transformed. Its palpable silence takes on a certain spiritual quality, as if the crumbling walls and neglected steel beams know they are being reborn into service as a sanctuary for those who haven's found one above ground.
— James Sullivan, San Francisco Review of Books

Everyone needs a home, a place to feel safe and free. For about 20 years a significant number of people sought refuge in a place most of us would never consider living. Margaret Morton provides a tremendous service to all of us by documenting the lives of several of these individuals. But she does more than this. In her pictures we experience beauty in a most unlikely place, among people we are not likely to meet. And we are impressed by the capacity of the human soul to survive and prevail even in the darkest of places and times.
— Thelma Bryant, Turning Wheel

Offers a valuable contribution to our understanding of contemporary urban settings. By effectively combining text and images, it allow readers to intimately regard these neglected social spaces, while at the same time appreciating their relationships to broader political, economic, and social factors. . . . Provides provocative perspectives on central themes in urban sociology and American life.
— Steven J. Gold, Contemporary Sociology

You always feel her presence, but it's a very sensitive presence. She's looking at what most people want to forget--that there are people living in this way. It wasn't an easy thing to do. But the result is a powerful book.
— Los Angeles Times

Morton's haunting, oddly seductive photo chiller of a book, [is] the first in her series on 'The Architecture of Despair'.
— San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle

The interviews that accompany her striking photographs reveal stories of hard luck, unhappy marriage, poor judgement, and substance abuse, but also the impressive amount of energy, ingenuity, and plain grit required of loners surviving outside orthodox society.
— Phoebe-Lou Adams, Atlantic Monthly

Morton, whose ongoing documentation of New York homeless dwellings is truly remarkable, explores the social landscape at its most impoverished in this series on makeshift shelters. Morton's haunting studies of a homeless encampment in an abandoned railroad tunnel look like a modern Dore's vision of hell.
— Vince Aletti, Village Voice

Morton brings to light the determination and aesthetic sense of people not commonly thought to possess either, even as her work bears witness to the failures of social policy in dealing with the homeless.... Morton's precise, luminous images reveal both the physical horror of life in the tunnel and the strange, monumental beauty of the space. Her portraits of the tunnel residents mirror their testimonies: direct and unsentimental, steadfastly refusing the pull of metaphor.
— Mathew Howard, Village Voice Literary Supplement, March 18, 1996

Like a present day Jacob Riis, Morton seeks to bring to light the hidden lives of New York City's desperately poor.
— Library Journal

Her images capture the dignity and resourcefulness of what our culture would deem to be the last rung on the social ladder. An amazing book.
— Santa Fe Reporter

The images and text provide painfully sharp, revelatory insights into this 'invisible' world of depravations. The effect recalls the work of Jacob Riis and Walker Evans earlier in this century. Morton's contribution is to give faces and voices to these unseen human beings, and to bring light to their salvaged lives and homes.
— Design Book Review

Morton is a gifted photographer with a masterly of light. The Tunnel is reminiscent of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, whose protagonist, like the tunnel dwellers, escapes from New York City into subterranean autonomy. The Tunnel provides a provocative perspective on central themes in urban sociology and American Life.
— Contemporary Sociology

Morton's photographs of makeshift habitats, rising apparitions in the wasted and freezing darkness, give form to these otherwise unimaginable lives. Be on the lookout for the next installment of this brave, ongoing project.
— Print Collector's Newsletter




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Revised: October 2000