During his studies of Cultural Anthropology and Philosophy in the Netherlands, Teun Voeten already showed a taste for adventure. For his final thesis, he spend three months in a gold digger community at the foot of the Ecuadorean Andes. After his studies, he went to document the brutal civil war in the former Yugoslavia and became a full time war correspondent, both as a photographer and a writer. He covered the ongoing crisis in Rwanda, Haiti, Israel and Chechnya.
In 1994, Voeten took a break from war reporting and went back to his anthropological roots by living for 5 months in a homeless community that had settled in an Amtrak tunnel under Manhattan's posh Upper West Side. This resulted in his first book Tunnelmensen that was originally published in Amsterdam, 1996. The translated and updated version, Tunnel People, wass published in 2010 by PM Press.
Between 1996 and 1998, Voeten developed a taste for the so called ‘forgotten wars’ and went out to document the ongoing crises in, Afghanistan, Sudan and Sierra Leone. Work from these trips was published in his photo book A Ticket To..., published in 1999 by Veenman Publishers, Netherlands. The book features the essay 'Neo-Vulturism in Contemporary Documentary Photography', a discourse about the less glamorous realities of war photography.
In 1998 Voeten was nearly killed during the civil war in Sierra Leone and had to hide for two weeks in the bush from the rebels hunting him. These events resulted in How de Body? Hope and Horror in Sierra Leone (Meulenhoff, Amsterdam, 2000 and St Martin's Press, New York 2002), The book is part diary of his harrowing adventures, part a detailed history of a country that has been plagued for a decade by a civil war fueled by blood diamonds.
Over the years, Voeten has covered the conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Colombia, Gaza, Lebanon, Honduras, Iraq and Iran. He has won numerous awards for his work published in Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The New Yorker and National Geographic, among others. Voeten is also a contributing photographer for organizations such as the International Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations.
Currently, he is working to document the drug-related violence in Mexico, both as a film maker and a photographer. Voeten lives between Brussels and New York. For more information, visit www.teunvoeten.com
Author/Photographer: Teun Voeten
Published September 2010
Page Count: 320 Pages
Size: 9 by 6
Subjects: Photography, Social Issues
At the end of the millennium, thousands of homeless people roamed the streets of Manhattan. A small group of them went underground. Invisible to society, they managed to start a new life in the tunnel systems of the city.
Acclaimed war photographer and cultural anthropologist Teun Voeten gained unprecedented access to this netherworld. For five months in 1994 and 1995 he lived, slept and worked in the tunnel. With him, we meet Vietnam veterans, macro-biotic hippies, crack addicts, Cuban refugees, convicted killers, computer programmers, philosophical recluses and criminal runaways. Voeten describes their daily work, problems and pleasures with humor and compassion. He also witnessed the end of tunnel life. The tunnel people were evicted in 1996, but Amtrak and homeless organizations offered them alternative housing.
Some succeeded in starting again above ground, while others failed. In this updated version of the book, Voeten tracks down the original tunnel dwellers and describes what has happened in the thirteen years since they left the tunnels.
"Teun Voeten has found yet another frontier in the great American experiment – the one underground, in the tunnels of Manhattan – and delivered it to us in an utterly charming and fascinating account. Part anthropologist and part journalist, Voeten dwells in an unknown world that most of us simply pass by in a hurry. To fully know America, one must follow Voeten into her depths. There is much there to admire and, yes, to learn from."
--Sebastian Junger, War Reporter and author of The Perfect Storm.
"This book is so brilliant because it’s written from the perspective of an insider, from someone who actually lived in the tunnel they are writing about, someone who actually spent time in the darkness, scavenged for food out of the garbage and literally slipped between the cracks in the pavement and into a place of true invisibility. Veoten is not someone who just poked his head in and squeaked, “hello?” into the darkness."
--Marc Singer, maker of the award winning documentary 'Dark Days'.
"Finally, after countless portrayals of one of the most highly publicized existences, Voeten is to be commended for his honest and explicit view of New York's underworld. I salute his efforts and sacrifices to the highest. "
--Bernard Monte Isaac aka Lord of the Tunnel, former tunnel resident.
“Voeten is no doubt one of the most adventurous reporters in the Netherlands.”
--Vrij Nederland Magazine
“Voeten resists the temptation to sensationalize and romanticize the underground tunnel people. Nor is his book sentimental…[it is a ] sober and well-written report about the mean misery underground: That makes this book so powerful.”
“Tunnel People is a supreme example of participatory observation. The insider's point of view comes here to full light in a brilliant way. It is not an objective case-study, but a subjective, journalistic reportage, right to the point of an incredible dynamic, human underworld that is nowhere being sensationalized nor romanticized by Voeten…”
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I. Glasser, Roger Williams
Dutch photographer and journalist Voeten documents two years of work with the men and women who lived underground in a New York City train tunnel from 1992 to 1994. Most of the book is a chronological presentation of Voeten's extensive field notes, written while he lived (part time) in the tunnel himself. The book's epilogue and pictures of his former bunkmates taken 13 years later are touching. The author experienced the stress of living underground without clean water, bathrooms, privacy, and cooking facilities. In addition to homeless people, many journalists, photographers, and documentary filmmakers were also present who competed with each other for the affection and cooperation of the underground community. Voeten documents the slow and tedious process by which most of the tunnel dwellers were able to leave their underground community and finally get an apartment above ground. This book could have benefitted from more thorough editing. Voeten editorializes at times (someone is a "creep," an apartment building is "tacky"); he is inconsistent in naming fellow researchers (one is always "professor," others are called by their first name); and there are some mistakes in syntax. Despite these caveats, a vivid and accessible account. Summing Up: Recommended. General and public libraries.
First published in the Netherlands in 1996, this book chronicles Voeten's five-month exploration of the society that exists underneath the streets of Manhattan. Voeten, an accomplished war photographer and reporter, didn't write about the people who lived in the tunnels under New York from the point of view of an observer. He lived in the tunnels, grew to know the people who lived there, and came to understand not just how they got there but also the society they have created. Like Jennifer Toth's Mole People (1993) and Matthew O'Brien's Beneath the Neon (2007), Voeten's book captivates readers with its compassionate portraits of the people and their surroundings, while exploring the surprisingly varied reasons why these men and women wound up living just beneath the surface of the reader's world.
By Teun Voeten
PM Press (dist. by IPG)
Oct., $24.95 paperback original; 5,000 first printing
East Coast, West Coast, and European tour
For five months in 1994 and 1995, photojournalist Voeten lived, slept, and worked in the tunnels underneath Manhattan. He describes what happened to the Vietnam vets, hippies, crack addicts, Cuban refugees, convicted killers, and runaways who lived underground. "Voeten has found yet another frontier in the great American experiment—the one underground, in the tunnels of Manhattan—and deliver[s] it to us in an utterly charming and fascinating account," says Sebastian Junger.
By Jessica Freeman-Slade
Issue VI, October 2010
When faced with exposés such as Sinclair’s, or Teun Voeten’s Tunnel People (PM Press, $24.95), it often proves less difficult for readers to stick with the unsightly details than to confront the book’s larger, more terrifying issues. Yet in Voeten’s book, whose central focus is the humanity of the tunnel people, it is impossible, dishonest, and ultimately the reader’s loss, to look away.
Hindsight and Tunnel Vision
By William Meyers
The Wall Street Journal
December 4th, 2010
The primary function of a documentary photograph is to convey information. Mr. Voeten shows us the shadowy underground world his people live in, their proximity to the Amtrak trains that speed through the tunnel, their makeshift quarters, and the rubble that is everywhere. He also follows them as they collect the empty cans and bottles to redeem. There are pictures of them at the community agencies trying to integrate them back into society. Beauty is beside the point, but the shot of a distant subterranean figure caught in the light of a ventilation grating is quite striking, and the faces of many of these men are rendered memorably.
By Ryan Bell
December 15, 2010
Still, life on the streets—or in a tunnel—is difficult and dangerous. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that people are not meant to live this way, even when so many willingly chose it. The tension between respect for people’s choices and the outrage over a society that structures life in such a away that so many get left behind is not easily resolved. Handing out baloney sandwiches is not the answer.
As someone who regularly encounters homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles and interacts with half a dozen social service agencies working among the homeless, I found Voeten’s book deeply insightful and helpfully frustrating. Tunnel People offers a penetrating vision of a slice of life that is uniquely American, recounted by a uniquely qualified Dutch writer.
By Luke Koz
Working Class Magazine
WC: Tunnel People, even though it’s a fundamentally different subject from war, there seems to be similarity. What attracted you to that subject?
TV: I have an interest in people living and surviving in extreme circumstances at the edges of the human condition, be it in a war zone or be it in a tunnel. I’m also interested in sociopolitical phenomenon and of course war is a sociopolitical phenomenon and poverty is another.