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Photos From The Lost Penn Station, Where Commuting Was Infinitely More Beautiful

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Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1958. (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015) 

Louis Stettner first photographed New York’s historic Penn Station in 1957. The station, a glorious nine-acre Beaux-Arts masterpiece, was infinitely photogenic; but it was the commuters that drew Stettner’s eye. It was, in his words, “a spacious and dramatic arena where people in the act of traveling went through a mixture of excitement, a silent patience of waiting, and an honest fatigue.” 

An image he took in 1957 of a girl stepping in circles of sunlight inspired him to return the following year. Again, his interests went beyond the 150-foot arched ceilings and classical Greek Doric columns of the vast waiting room. His photographs are primarily intimate portraits of the people traveling through that beautiful space, made all the more poignant by its impending demise. Five years after this series was shot, the old Penn Station building was demolished.

Stettner’s photographs have been brought together for the first time in the book Penn Station, New York, with an introduction by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik. Pause for a moment with these black-and-white scenes of a vanished landmark.

Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1957. (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015)

Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1958. (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015)

Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1958. (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015)

Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1958. (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015)

Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1958.  (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015)

Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1958. (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015)

Louis Stettner, Penn Station, 1958. (Photo: © Louis Stettner, 2015)

The cover of Penn Station, New York. (Photo: Courtesy Thames & Hudson)