An artist has created beauty out of bacteria in a way that’s sure to trouble train commuters. The Brooklyn-based Craig Ward decided to collect samples from the handrails of New York subway carriages. These germ-filled deposits were photographed to create the disturbingly delightful “Subvisual Subway” photographic series. 

What led you to photograph the subway poles?

Craig Ward.

Craig Ward.



I was inspired after seeing a photograph by a researcher who had grown the bacteria from her son’s handprint in agar. It reminded me of the urban myth that when you use the handrails you’re effectively shaking hands with a hundred people at the same time, and I wondered how that might look. For me the images are portraits, of a kind, and I think they serve as an excellent visual analogy for the diversity of the city at large.

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What did you find there?

A lot! We had to visually identify the species as isolating the individual colonies wasn’t going to be possible.

Were you scared or surprised at what you found?

I was surprised that the project worked so well, to be honest; but the bacteria is pretty much in line with what I’d expect to see in such a densely packed urban environment. I didn’t really have any expectations on the project, apart from satisfying my own curiosity, so I was just pleased that the technique worked and that I managed to create some cool images.

What has been the reaction of people?

I’d have to say, equal parts amazement and repulsion.

– By Daniel Casillas