There’s something about underground transport networks that seem to create little microcosms of human activity. It’s true of London, but I’ve also witnessed it in Paris, Tokyo, Toronto and New York – a whole world underneath the rest of civilisation, with no natural light and people in a hurry. All of life’s characters are at once different yet equal.
I’m always pleased to see pictures and projects shot in these spaces. The latest book from Hoxton Mini Press, the sixth in its Vintage Britain series, contains pictures from 1970-1980 by the photographer Mike Goldwater.
Back in the 1970s, it was still acceptable to talk, kiss and even smoke on the London Underground. I’m not entirely sure you’d get the same kind of imagery if you were to embark on the project today, and it’s for that reason that the images are wonderfully dated and nostalgic (even for somebody who wasn’t even born when these photographs were shot).
An essay at the start of the book by Lucy Davies explains more about the genesis of the project. Mike grew up in a north London suburb, he would catch the Northern line to school in Hampstead. He began taking his photographs for this series in 1970. With some stations lit only by individual hanging bulbs, the images were hard to capture, with the film pushed to its absolute limits.
The result, albeit out of necessity, is sometimes brooding and mysterious, alluding again to the otherworldliness of the underground. It’s amusing to note that he had to hide his camera from underground staff, who would stop him from taking photos if caught.
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Thank goodness he was never stopped completely – in fact he now has the privilege of travelling on the network for free, a fitting reward for his beautiful work. This is a wonderful set of images and a fine example for documentary and social photographers, as well as a lesson in how to tightly edit a cohesive set of shots that work together well.
Hoxton Mini Press is on a roll with this collection, which are always beautifully presented and available at a reasonable price. London natives or otherwise would do well to add this one to their shelves – I love it.
London Underground 1970-1980 by Mike Goldwater
Publisher: Hoxton Mini Press