Louis Stettner took a photograph in Penn Station in 1957 of a girl in a party dress stepping from one circular patch of sunlight to another across the vast floor of the station, moving away from the photographer toward the farther reaches of the station interior. The image inspired the photographer to return a year later and create the series of Penn Station photographs. For Stettner, the station ‘was a spacious and dramatic arena where people in the act of travelling went through a mixture of excitement, a silent patience for waiting, and an honest fatigue’.
The Penn Station series is a richly evocative and poetic statement about a lost time and place in New York of the 1950s. The photographs offer up beautiful and mysterious images of urban isolation and melancholy, of intensely private states in a most majestic yet doomed public place, as the station was notoriously torn down five years after the series was completed.
Though the station makes itself felt by its shadowy spaces and glowing surfaces, the work is not a portrait of the building, but rather a study of the people within it, at once in transit and in suspension. Deemed unpublishable at the time he took the series – Life magazine rejected the photographs for not being newsworthy or unusual enough – the Penn Station series has since come to be recognized as a profound and compelling work of art which is published here in volume form for the first time.