CNN Photos

Peeling ads = ‘Accidental’ art

Like most billboards, the ads in New York City subway stations reflect the cultural, social and political obsessions of the moment.

Over time, the plastering of one ad on top of another creates temporal layers that eventually show through the peeling paper, revealing what Kevin Shea Adams calls “seemingly perfect, accidental compositions inside of the layers of ads.”

The New York-based photographer was drawn to the “peels” for various reasons.

“They’re collage, they’re anonymous, they’re appropriated, they’re participatory, sometimes subversive, they’re public, they’re pop, ephemeral,” he said.

It was also the game, “the element of chance” in finding the best ones, imagining how they’d come to be, and snapping them on his iPhone over four years riding the subway.

Adams' images do not always depict vandalism or street art, “because they aren't always exactly ‘authored,’ ” he said. "Some of the most interesting ones may have just happened, a function of time and weather, of riders picking and peeling at them while waiting on the platform."

Most of his images capture details of much larger areas, free of graffiti, ad copy or glare from the fluorescent lights. The best ones were photographed up close to exploit the iPhone’s strength as a macro camera, he said.

“I liked the way these images sort of broke the feed; how they felt in that context while still very much being a ‘snapshot’ from my life,” he said.

“I liked how loud they can be when finally peeled off — so to speak — by the camera and re-contextualized as a framed photograph. That’s an interesting transformation to explore, especially with things that are sort of hidden in plain sight.”

- Emanuella Grinberg, CNN