© Fabian Palencia

Growing up in the city, the youngest girl with two older brothers, I was naturally overprotected but also exposed at a young age to an urban wilderness of late 80s NYC through the crazy tales my siblings brought home, along with their rambunctious friends.

While I was up in my (literally) pink bedroom listening to New Kids On The Block or rollerskating around the block in DIY puffy paint t-shirts – they were off playing stick ball in the schoolyard or manhunt in the cemetery. They skateboarded the Brooklyn Banks, did graffiti while riding between subway cars and played hardcore shows at CBGBs. Our first hand experiences of the city were very different.  But as I listened, I imagined their city as clear as photographs in front of me.

Having older brothers meant having lots of other rowdy boys around the house, other older brothers who overprotected, ignored or teased. Some were kind. They all were key characters in these fascinating stories – to this day.

Fabian Palencia

Fabian Palencia, was a fixture in my house growing up. When we met to talk about his photography exhibit that opens tonight, he remembered when he solidified his ranking in our family, which was as simple as a ride home in my Mom’s car after he and my brother Joe stayed late setting up lighting for a school play in the auditorium of IS 227 in Corona. After that ride Fabian became a member of the Galatioto household, which meant eating a lot of pasta and knowing all the names of our cats.

Now that we have all grown older and rely on Facebook to keep in touch, my entire family follows Fabian, who has in the past 6 years developed into a very skilled street photographer – though he’d rather I not categorize him as such.

© Fabian Palencia

Everyday he shares photographs of his daily travels throughout the city – many on the subway. In an article for Hycide Fabian wrote:

Making photographs in the subway began as a means to avoid foul weather. Rain, sleet, hail and snow drove me underground into the warmth of the tunnels. What I discovered kept me there.

While I sit at my desk on this rainy day, his images tell me the story of the city  – just like those tales I’d hear from my brothers. And not being there, but one step removed, makes them even more memorable and intriguing.

© Fabian Palencia

Want to hear crazy stories about the city most people will never know? Have a conversation with a bike messenger. Fabian began taking snapshots with a disposable camera while bike messengering in Manhattan – the suicide of all suicide jobs. He said he did it in order, “to remember.”

And since having two children, Sol and Sky, he has amassed a huge library of family photos. Aside from being his subjects, his children are a huge part of his inspiration as an artist. He brings them to museums often and takes many of his photographs while “pressed for time,” running errands with them or dropping them off to school.

The photo at the top of this post of Fabian’s son Sol under the “Right Eye from an Anthropoid Coffin,” taken at the Brooklyn Museum was “art directed” by his son, who ran back and forth between posing and scrutinizing the LCD screen in order to get the perfect shot.

Subway Kissers

The featured photo of Fabian’s show, a young couple kissing on a subway platform, was shot by Fabian with his daughter Sky in tow. The couple kept at it as train after train passed and Fabian kept shooting while Sky begged for her dad to stop. When they finally sat on the train and looked at the photos she approved and agreed it was worth the excruciating embarrassment.

His show titled “Subterranean” with works from the article he wrote for Hycide, is almost entirely a NYC subway series but Fabian doesn’t consider himself solely a street photographer.

“I’m just a photographer,” he told me, “[The subway] is what I have access to.”

He looks for ironic circumstances and never asks anyone to pose.

“When people pose, they project who they want you to see them as,” he explained.

© Fabian Palencia

And he treats his photography MO much like his former street artist MO:

All art is the same. I used to do graffiti. It’s a similar feeling [to photography]. It’s a one man sport. It’s all about placement and geometry and asking ‘who is going to see this?’ It takes courage. Am I going to worry about offending someone? … Chinatown is where I built my courage.

Now instead of people on the street viewing his art, he has turned the public into his art and uses social media as his platform. Feedback online is very important to Fabian who said he is “pretty self-conscious” and “unsure sometimes,” because he gets emotionally attached to images based on the experience he has taking them. But when someone else looks at one of his photos, he hopes that they create their own narrative.

As for his plans, Fabian wants what all photographers want: to be paid to travel the world taking photographs. As a photojournalist? I asked.

“Journalism is just an excuse. I just want to make art. I want to make interesting images that have meaning.”

See the rest of Fabian Palencia‘s photographs on display at Tugboat Tea Company (546 Flatbush Ave). Opening tonight, January 16, 2014 6-9pm. The works will be on view thru February 6th, 2014.

Join the Conversation


  1. “All art is the same?’ We must have a face to face talk about art and what constitutes it. In this world steeped in relativism all we do has artistic merit. We are all artists of some sort and all we do has artistic merit. I beg to differ not as a way to start polemics but as a way to elucidate and educate. I also want to put aside the thorny issue of photography being an “art,” as this issue has been beaten to death already. But I must take umbrage at the idea that all art is the same. By extension, the middle quartet of Beethoven, Opus 88 are equal to rap music or that a graffito on a wall that is in effect an act of pure vandalism is equivalent to what Da Vinci put an that wall in Milano when he painted the last supper. Sure, I realize the enthusiasm of youth with it’s concomitant passions that may at times lead to such hyperbolic statements but a little calming down is needed. I have been shooting photos for 45 years and still do not call myself an artist although a few of my photos have what I consider some “artistic merit.” I am very uncomfortable being called an artist or even a photographer. Basically I just shoot pictures with cameras. Nothing more. But perhaps, I may not be as competent or able as you are and if this is indeed the case, I wish you all the best in your path toward a great artistic and photographic career.
    Rocco Galatioto

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