Artist Creates Beautiful Art Using Subway Bacteria

PHOTO: Brooklyn-based illustrator and artist Craig Ward used bacteria from subways, which he grew in Petri dishes to make art. Shown here is bacteria from the 7 train.Craig Ward
Brooklyn-based illustrator and artist Craig Ward used bacteria from subways, which he grew in Petri dishes to make art. Shown here is bacteria from the 7 train.

If you've ever wondered (and feared) just what is lurking on the subway handrail, artist Craig Ward has your answer: plenty of bacteria.

This summer Ward completed a project to collect and grow bacteria samples from each of New York City's 23 train lines. With 5 million riders on the New York City subway every day, Ward was not surprised to find that each line had its own distinct and plentiful bacteria colony.

"You hold the handrails, you’re shaking hand with 100 people all at once," Ward told ABC News. A typographer by profession, Ward had the idea to grow the bacteria in the shape of every line's number or letter. For example, all the bacteria from the A train, which stretches from the tip of Manhattan to the outer reaches of Queens, was grown in the shape of an A.

"I think there was a morbid curiosity with the whole project," Ward said. "I was surprised by how well it turned out."

Ward said bacteria from the L train, which travels from Brooklyn to Manhattan, grew the fastest. He found traces of salmonella and staphylococcus bacteria in his samples as well as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.

Ward said the project helped him think about the diversity of New York.

"For me, it’s interesting portraits of the city on a microbial scale," Ward said. But he's also become more aware of his surroundings on the subway.

"I’m not going to try boost sales of hand sanitizer," said Ward. "[But] I’m a little bit more mindful."