The Urban Lens: Documenting NYC’s vanishing ATMs

Posted On Fri, October 6, 2017 By

Posted On Fri, October 6, 2017 By In Features, photography, The urban lens

Outside the Lower East Side club Fat Baby

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Ivan Kosnyrev shares photos from his Instagram series Unreliable ATM. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

We recently shared photographer’s before-and-after photos of Tribeca, a project that helped him learn about the history and present evolution of his neighborhood. Having only moved to NYC three years ago from Moscow, Ivan uses his documentary photography as a way to get acclimated with his new home. And when he wants to go outside his home base, he often does so through the lens of his Instagram account Unreliable ATM, which documents the vanishing street ATM. Not only does this disappearance represent changing times and technologies, but it’s a visual reminder of how the city is losing its small businesses and culture. Ahead, Ivan shares some of his favorite ATM photos and talks about his inspiration for the project.

Outside Xian Shi Fashion on Canal Street

Where did the idea for Reliable ATM come from?

I came to the States three years ago and was amazed at the fact that anyone can buy an ATM that’s not affiliated with a bank and put it wherever—outside their deli, cafe, or parking lot—and then handle the transactions within. There are no rules to how these ATMs should look or where they must be placed; they come from various companies and they’re all different. So I decided to start collecting photos I took of them. I only do the ones that are outside; I think that these ATMs blend in with the street art and become part of the landscape. They’re often tagged, there are stickers on them, some are broken or vandalized. And they’re representative of the businesses they belong to, some surrounded by vegetables, others by Chinese merchandise, or fur coats, or flowers. Each one is special.

Do you feel the vanishing culture of outdoor ATMs says something about society?

That’s why I call the ATM culture vanishing: Small businesses are being displaced by corporations, bank chains are everywhere, and there’s less need for those ATMs, especially because they always charge a commission no one wants to pay. New technologies appear, and you barely ever need cash: Most places will have a point-of-sale device or something, and you can always give money back to friends with an app. So these little boxes are becoming remnants of the yesteryear, like phone booths, and an essential part of New York culture, like automat cafes and LES street peddlers.

I’m also very interested in how the U.S. is both ahead and behind other countries, depending on what we’re looking at. Obviously, this is one of the places in the world where all the cutting edge technologies are being developed and implemented, along with communication services and financial operations. But at the same time, checks are still huge here, with 25 million people in rural areas who do not have fast broadband internet. And those ATMs are somewhere in between the past and the future.

Do you have a favorite ATM that you’ve found in your travels?

The majority of my ATMs are from New York, although I’m always on the lookout when I’m traveling. I have one from France, from Mount St. Michel, but as I’ve said, it’s really mostly an American thing. There are a bunch of street ATMs in London, too, but I haven’t been since I started the Instagram.

I love it when an ATM is abandoned, and you look at it, with all the graffiti and grime on top, and imagine drunk kids lining up to get cash for street meat, someone getting a tip for their hairdresser, or a twenty to stress binge on chocolate bars from the bodega. What you can imagine, the negative space, is the best.

Are you working on any other projects you can tell us about?

I love collecting things. Maybe one day I’ll make it to Mmmuseum with my oddities! But because it always takes a lot of space to collect, I usually do it digitally, like with the ATMs, or also small things: I have around 400 coffee sleeves from different countries, maybe I’ll get to making an Instagram about them, too. I’m also helping my partner with her own street art-based upcoming Instagram.

Instagram: @unreliableatm
Facebook: Ivan Kosnyrev
Website: Ivan Kosnyrev on Medium

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Laundry Land on 1st Avenue and 19th Street

MRA Fragrances on West 30th Street

Union Square

Pizza King in Midtown

Mamoun’s Falafel on MacDougal Street

The Corner Cafe on 6th Avenue and 24th Street

Habana Outpost in Fort Greene

Jane Laundromat in Boerum Hill

Moishe’s Bakery in the East Village

East Village Gourmet Deli


All photos © Ivan Kosnyrev/Unreliable ATM

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