Manhattan Manholes: Photography by Max Maddock

Bell System

As I roam New York with my camera, much of my time is spent looking for graffiti on poles, construction barriers, sidewalks, and security gates. Nowadays, I also take a cautious glance at the street to find a different type of artwork – one forged of iron and mostly ignored.

The ubiquity of manhole covers in Manhattan for access to every type of service – sewers, telephone, gas, water, fire department, and others – offers a panoply of intricate geometric beauty. I spy circles, stars, cogs, squares, parallel lines, radiating patterns, leaves, helixes, and text spelling out acronyms, uses, locations, and ownership.

The 14 images collected here represent a handful of the more “colorful” manhole and access covers I’ve seen and walked across. They run the gamut from simple to intricate, and those bereft of any text that hints at their purpose are perhaps the most charming.

Sadly, older and distinctive manhole covers are becoming harder to find. Newer covers, while often maintaining the use of geometric patterns, are being simplified and systemized. They feel cold and dispassionate. That’s why I take photographs of manhole covers: I’m afraid a unique form of street art is slowly disappearing.

So the next time you’re out walking, take a look down. You might discover a gem beneath your feet.

Bureau of Sewers

Con Edison


Gas Test


Monument: Do Not Remove


Sewer Stripe


Varick Street

Water Pollen

Wet Circle

Max Maddock is a writer who often takes photos of things that most other people ignore. And he’s a photographer who sometimes writes. HIs photo essay White Male References Available appeared on FP in June. He hunts for urban squirrels daily with his trusty Brittany Spaniel. He abhors artists’ statements.

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