The London UndergrounD Series

Photographed 1976-1977

I lived in Putney, southwest London, for about a year and a half between 1976 and 78. I shot the street life, some doors and windows at night, people on the street and so on. It wasn't until I took a couple of shots of the London Underground, known as 'The Tube', that I found my subject.  

The first time I saw the photos of the London Underground come up in the developer, I was captivated by its architectural beauty. The variety architectural detail, the class structure evident in some stations, and historical value of this beautiful space became fascinating to me.  Now I know that most people don't realize how beautiful this space is, but to a photographer it is very special, especially for someone from Los Angeles, which at the time did have this kind of mass transportation system. 

As it doesn't rain underground, there was also a great advantage to shooting there.  Had I not been called home due to a family emergency, I would have shot every station in the London area at the time. 

It was illegal to shoot the Underground at the time--I'm sure it still is.  When I was there, it was the threat of the IRA-- bombings and threats were a daily concern. Anyone shooting the London Underground was suspect, so I had to shoot and move on. Though a few employees allowed me to photograph them, more often then not, I was told to put my camera away and leave. To stay anonymous, I couldn't use a tripod or monopod, and I hid my camera equipment in a wheeled carrier cart that fit in with the British way of life. 

As it is very dark down below, most of the indoor photos were taken at less than a 30th of a second and often at 1/4 of a second.  I learned to use my body and breath to stabilized the camera.  It is remarkable how sharp many of these photos are, and it is also one of the reason, but not the main reason, why there are very few people in this study.  I began shooting this project using Tri X at 800 ASA, but switched quickly to Ilford ASA400, shooting at 800ASA.  Ilford was added a softer element, particularly to the wooden stations, and had a warmth that appealed to me.

When shooting 'The Tube', I would spend an entire day exploring and shooting this cavernernous space throughout the city.  I never went past the pay station.  In this way I could pay a small fee, travel dozens of miles, and visit numerous stations.  The one exception to leaving the station was surreal, and may have led to expansion of this project had I stayed in England. 

One day as I was travelling all over London, underground, I thought about the fact that I hadn't a clue what was above. So, I decided to leave the station and see.  It was the perfect stop for a Southern Californian.  Outside the South Gate Station looked much like a 50/60s' American Drive In Restaurant, and there were palm trees.  I thought I had been transported home.

Many of the photos in this project had never been reproduced until 2009. Modern technology has given me the opportunity to return to this project. Historically significant, this project is an idealized vision of how truly beautiful and remarkable this transportation system is-the first of its kind.  Sadly, many of these stations/escalators no longer exist in there original state, due to changes made after the 1987 Kings Cross fire that killed 31 people.  The beautiful wooden structures were replaced.  It is my hope that people will once again look upon this marvel of the late 19th century and recognize what a wonderful system they have and tend to it's healing. Restoration of this structure is a hope of mine.

In 1979, I contacted the London Underground, sent them a sampling of my work, hoping to publish this beautiful collection.  At the time, I was told that they didn't know what to do with this project, but was told that ..."I had always wanted to see the London Underground, shot this way.  Beautiful."  But the time wasn't right.  It needed time primarily due now to its historical signicance.  The time came in 2010, thanks to David Long and The History Press  Release date is September, 2011.

All photos are copyrighted.

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