24 Hours of Street Photography on the London Underground.
On the 18th of November 2016 I took a trip. A 24 hour trip. I didn’t have a destination in mind or plan for that matter but it would involve street photography and spending 24 hours on the London Underground Night Tube – specifically, the Northern Line and its stations. So I’d get the first train at 5.25am on Thursday 18th right through to the same time the following morning of the 19th November. Crazy right? 24 Hours of Non-Stop London Underground Photography.
05.15 – Balham Station
There were two things that motivated this project; the first and probably less important was that I’d been planning the purchase of a new camera, the delicious Fuji XT2. I won’t go into too much detail about the camera here, however, I will follow up with a separate blog post for this so if you’re gear head like me then hopefully you’ll find it insightful. The second and main reason for this project was down to the fact that the Northern Line has been a “lifeline” for the past year of my life and knowing that the 18th November was the first day the line would offer a night tube service had me a little excited. I’ll have to rewind a little to tell you my story so you can hopefully understand why I decided this was a good idea. Believe me, after 12 hours on the tube, I wasn’t so sure it was.
I’ve spent my life in Essex and East London traveling not much further than Liverpool street and Shoreditch unless an interesting gig would drag me to Brixton – just about as South as I would go. My life revolved around East London and I was happy with that and never thought I’d need anything else. However, after a pretty bad break up in 2012 I found myself moving out of Essex and into Hackney to start exploring what London has to offer. I basically wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t take me long to see exactly what it was about and I found myself inspired and happy. 2 months after my move and when I felt at my most settled, something happened. Well someone happened. Rebecca stumbled into my life. Those transcendent eyes lit like beacons had me from hello. She lived in South London which meant that I’d have to start crossing the river to see her, something I was actually pretty uncomfortable about doing. Not for any reason other than I didn’t know where anything was or where we could go – it was down to Rebecca to show me the ropes. 7 months after dating we decided to move in together and with her work being in Colliers Wood and at the time my job as a print producer at a creative agency being by Goodge Street Station, we made a call to move to Balham. This was the best decision we could have made, it’s a wonderful place. So the lifeline thing began at this point. For the first time in my life I was riding the Northern Line every day to work and the only way I could see my family or friends was with this line, up to Bank and on from there. It kept me connected to my world when I felt at my most vulnerable.
The London underground is a strange place, volatile, quiet and where it should feel uncomfortable at times it can be incredibly calming. You feel disconnected, well from station to station anyway. But sometimes I feel like it’s the only place I really get to think without any distractions. What I find the most fascinating is the people; I’ll sit on a train looking at every person wondering what they’re thinking, where they’re going if they’re happy, if they’re scared, if they’ve had enough, or if they aren’t thinking at all. Sometimes I’ll catch eyes with someone and smile to have the joy of them reciprocate, and for a brief moment, we’ve connected. It’s a nice feeling, a smile goes such a long way when things don’t quite make sense in your life. But other times I’ll quickly look away in fear that I’m invading their space.
08.43 – London Bridge Station
So the photography project was just an opportunity to capture these moments and save them for myself to have a constant reminder about this period of my life, which has most certainly been the most significant so far. I didn’t really have a plan as I’ve said and I just wanted to capture what I saw, nothing contrived and nothing forced. There are so many beautiful moments happening around you all the time it’s just a case of observing I guess.
23.40 – Angel Station
RIDE WITH ME ON THE LONDON UNDERGROUND
The first 3 hours of my journey were slow. People are tired and you can see this in their faces; those people that have been doing the same journey for what must feel like forever to make ends meet, to support the ones they love or to keep the ones they hate at bay. Something about the way a train slowly moves from side to side that makes you feel like you’re being rocked to sleep. It’s hard to fight that fatigue.
Between 05.43 – 07.01 – Various
With rush hour creeping up far quicker than I expected, I decided to head North, way up to Finchley and watched the sun rising. The skies were a beautiful tone of blue, it felt so serene and people just seemed more awake, more in tune with the day ahead.
07.19 – Finchley Central
But as we approached Camden, inevitably the train became congested, but surprisingly calm. Maybe I was calm? I had nothing to rush for no where to go, no agenda for the day.
08.42 – Heading South
Sure when you looked hard enough you could sense the anxiety in the air whilst people chased the morning to clock in on time, but even this seemed so systematic, people seamlessly headed in their direction and before I knew what time it was, it was over. It all slowed down so quickly.
09.21 – London Bridge Station
The day progressed so quickly following this. I spent a lot of time admiring the lines and light that the underground creates and watched people as they embraced the opportunity to enjoy the calm.
11.18 – 16.21 – Various
18.26 – Moorgate Station
21.06 – Kings Cross Station
One thing I didn’t expect was how it felt from 11pm onwards. To be honest this was the time I most feared. What if I get mugged? What if some drunkard decides to intimidate me and take my camera? But it didn’t feel this way at all and maybe we owe it to the London Underground Night Tube Service? No one seemed stressed about missing the last train or worried that their friend who decided to go for another box of nuggets wouldn’t make it.
23.14 – 03.46 – Various
People just went about their business and boarded trains when it suited them. People were asleep on stairs and benches but this wasn’t met with hostility, instead with concern, not only by the staff but regular people.
02.46 – No idea where I photographed this one. At this point it was all bit of a blur as I’d been awake for 21 hours.
So 24 hours later how did I feel about photographing the London Underground? Tired, delirious and broken to be honest. I questioned why I even bothered the more exhausted I became, but something came over me in that last hour. A feeling that we are going to be ok. Yes, the news and media tell us we’re doomed, but I don’t buy it. We’re going to be ok because when all is said and done we care about one another and we have to stay connected. Rather we want to stay connected to each other. Be it with a train, with a car, with a bike, with a phone or even with the smallest smile. We need each other. If you enjoyed this post you may enjoy my guide to the best street photography locations in London.