By Phoebe Parke
Over a three-year span, Front Room Gallery photographer Stephen Mallon captured images of the wagons being placed, and his photos can now be seen in a solo show in New York.
"I had read that they were dumping subway cars into the Atlantic, but I thought the project was over," Mallon said.
"Then in 2007, I was looking for a place for another photo shoot and I saw the barges being loaded." Once the subway cars had been taken out of service, they were cleaned and recycled or sold all the parts that could be removed (seats, belts and tires).
They then placed the wagons on a barge, which transported them to a point where they were thrown into the sea. Subway cars provide a place for sea creatures. A hydraulic lift would pick them up and drop them one by one into the ocean about once a month, with the purpose of forming a long row of houses for maritime life along the coast from Delaware to South Carolina.
"I've never seen anything like this," Mallon said. "And I've been in New York for over 20 years… you experience a vertigo sensation while falling.
You want to hold onto something while you watch them fall. ”42-year-old Mallon has an ongoing project called American Reclamation, which explores the recycling industry in America. He took his photos from a small boat in front of the barge, in locations like Delaware, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Some wagons have also been dumped in Georgia, although not all locations are disclosed to the public, as some are used for ecological studies.
The project, operated by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, ended in 2010.
But the wagons have a new life under the sea.
"We've been monitoring subway cars made of carbon steel and they are in good shape," said Jeffrey Tinsman, the artificial reef program manager at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Thanks to these structures, there is now 400 times more food per square foot for fish.
"They are still three-dimensional and offer thousands upon thousands of square feet of hard surface for invertebrates to live on, some of which, like blue mussels, could not live on the natural sandy bottom."
"When you compare the amount of food available on this reef to the natural amount, there is 400 times more food per square foot than on the sandy bottom," Tinsman continued.
"Fish like black snook cannot swim fast, so they need a structure that provides both food and shelter; they couldn't, for example, swim faster than a shark, but they could hide in shelter."
Stephen Mallon's work can be seen in the Patters of Interest solo show at New York University's Kimmel Galleries from February through March 15.