In my opinion, there's nowhere more interesting than a subway system, and none more so than the London Underground or 'Tube'. Every time I load some film into my camera I think, "no more Tube shots', but each time I still find myself Underground with my shutter open. I now have countless shots of the Tube. So, why do I keep going back?
A significant pull for me is the overall ‘look’ of the Tube. Designed very specifically to look like a brand, even back in its early days, the symbols of the underground, station styles, and trains all have a characteristic look. Many of the station’s exteriors showcase the art-deco style popular at the time of their construction and interior features, like the tiling of the platform tunnels, the light fittings, and the clocks, which hark back to the early half of the 20th century. All of these features, of course, make the Tube eminently desirable to the Lomographer. My personal favorite features include the escalators, and the Fisheye mirrors at the entrance to the platforms, which are both fun to experiment with on film. The famous signs, the red circle and blue bar, used for station names and the ‘no smoking’ signs have become internationally recognizable, and visitors can pick up their very own signs at the gift shops.
The platforms at the stations also house gems for quirky photography; not only the red-circle-blue-bar insignia, but the edge of the platform reminds you to “mind the gap”. The bobbled paving slabs at the edge of the platforms are great for shooting low level: holding the camera at, or near floor level by these as a train speeds in can provide some great motion shots. However, make sure you “stand back from the platform edge” as the announcers will remind you!
The lighting on the Tube platforms provides just the right level for capturing the movement of trains and people. Have a steady hand; exposures need to be fairly long. Capturing a moving train is one of my favorites on the Tube. The trains’ colors blur into a perfect line as the trains speed in and out of the stations. Or shoot a stationary train, just as the doors open and the passengers move on and off – another great way to capture the hustle and bustle of the London Underground.
People are possibly the greatest source of fascination when it comes to photographing the underground. From the tourist to the seasoned commuter, the variety of people and the way they temporarily inhabitant this underground world provides great inspiration. Whether sitting or in motion, the people provide the ‘life and soul’ of the Tube.
Finally, the trains themselves are photogenic. Banks of seats with different fabrics, poles in the color of the Tube line, and the sliding doors all help create the London Underground brand. A visit to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden can teach you about the designs of the train interiors over the years.
And so I keep returning, looking for and finding a fresh insight on every visit. I return to take a better shot than I did last time. And as I admire the Tube, I compare it to other subways in other cities, and always decide: the London Underground is the best. Maybe you think there’s nothing better than your city’s subway – show me the photographic proof! Until then, I’ll keep heading back to the Tube underneath London.