People don’t usually get psyched about yellow cabs. Whether you’re attempting to hail one in the rain or suppress your nausea while being jerked around in the back seat, taking a taxi is an experience one endures more than cherishes. Which, of course, is something Uber and Lyft exploit to their advantage.
But one New York City cab driver is working hard to bring yellow back—by making a ride in his cab feel special, and by making his passengers feel like they are a part of something bigger. If you're lucky enough to land in his backseat, Yaw Addae will offer to take your portrait.
For the past six months, Addae, a trained photographer, has been politely asking passengers if they would please pose for him, then posting their photos online as part of a project he's calling Riding Yellow. The project aims to help New Yorkers feel a little less anonymous—and in doing so, encourage empathy among residents.
For now, the project lives mostly on Instagram, where it's racked up almost 500 followers, most of whom are former passengers. The account bears the nickname "Riders of New York," an homage to Brandon Stanton’s massively popular Humans of New York. But Fusion first learned of the project after one of our editors found herself in his taxi. It wasn't exactly like landing in the Cash Cab, but the experience did feel something like winning a prize.
Addae, 33, has lived in New York City since 1995, when he immigrated from Ghana to join his father and three siblings. After studying media at Bronx Community College, he began operating a series of one-man photo and video production companies—including, currently, the aptly named Photography by Yaw.
“I shoot, I edit, I take photos, I do everything by myself," he said. But "running a business without working capital is almost impossible to break out." And so, to supplement his photo and video work, Addae began driving yellow cabs last winter.
Addae had been behind the wheel for a few months when it occurred to him that he could combine his day job with his love of photography. On a whim, he floated the idea for Riding Yellow by a passenger he was dropping off in Brooklyn, and she gave him all the encouragement he needed. She told him, "You have the camera. Do it.”
Initially, Addae had a difficult time convincing passengers to pose for a portrait. The first three passengers he asked turned him down. “No one really wants to be the first of anything," he reasoned.
But then one night, as he was driving home the last passenger of his shift, they started chatting about his idea—and she agreed. With that, Riding Yellow was born.
Since then, getting passengers to participate in the project has become easier. Addae estimates that about a third of the passengers whom he asks says yes. In turn, he allows them to pose however they want—whatever makes them feel comfortable, most like their true selves.
While some opt for conventional portraits, others take a more creative route, draping themselves over the cab's hood or sitting atop the car (literally riding yellow!) or, um … hiding in the trunk.
Addae's approach to photography has informed his approach to cab driving—or maybe it’s the other way around. “As a driver, if I respect my passengers, they definitely show respect back," he said. "We’re all humans, and at the end of the day, everything is temporary.”
(Yep, that’s Rachel Dratch.)
Sure, Addae's project may be a tad quixotic—but scrolling through all of his passengers, one can't help but feel a little moved, thinking: "Hey, all these people chilled in the back of the same guy's cab and agreed to be part of this project, how different can they be?" (Don't answer that.)
For Addae, the goal is simple—to encourage New Yorkers to see a mundane activity like taking a cab as something truly special and to see each other as special, too.
"It’s all symbolism for me," said Addae, pictured above. "The space in the back of a yellow cab serves the entire world. That space does not discriminate against color, creed, religion, culture, or sexual orientation.
"The space is for everyone."