Friday, 10 January 2014

Underground Design



Harry Beck's original tub map, 1933 (Source: TFL)

I've always held a design crush on London's cavernous Underground network. From the Harry Beck tube map to the iconic and ageless royal red, white and blue station roundel beacons, which still signify stuffy shelter from the London rain today. Then there's the mystery and macabre history of what lies under the Underground architecture, from the shrouded ghost stations to the City's plague pits housing our ancestors beneath the sleepy electric traction of carriages, worming their way through the capital's earth. Author Neil Gaiman playfully weaves various Underground stations into the mythology of his fantastic book Neverwhere, painting his extemporaneous 'London Below' with an appreciative nod to the lore of London long ago.


Bob Mazzer

Steaming forward with modernity, but still a little before the setting of Channel 4 series Confessions from the Underground, I recently discovered the 70s and 80s Underground portfolio of photographer Bob Mazzer. Instead of avoiding the fatigued faces of daily commuters, he pointed a camera at them, capturing an essence of what London's transit lungs looked like over three decades ago, when smoking and drinking on the system were legal, where mods, punks and rockers reigned fashionably supreme, and where mobile phones and tablets only existed in the imagination. Oh and also highlighting that the train interiors have changed very little. I especially love the 80s pop-siren redolence caught in the image below, and comparing his 70s/80s stills to his more recent ones; what differences can you spot?

Photograph by Bob Mazzer (Source: The Telegraph gallery)
Photograph by Bob Mazzer (Source: Spitalfields Life)
Photograph by Bob Mazzer (Source: Spitalfields Life)

Photograph by Bob Mazzer (Source: Spitalfields Life)
Photograph by Bob Mazzer (Source: Spitalfields Life)
Janol Apin

These blog posts always take me on an internet adventure, so as a result of digitally hunting for Mazzer's work, I discovered French photographer Janol Apin who akin to Mazzer, likes to use the Paris Metro stations as the base for his 'Métropolisson' collection. Apin's collection however has a very definite injection of humour, as each piece is a literal visualisation of the station's name. See what I mean below.

Photograph by Janol Apin (Source: Untapped Cities)

Photograph by Janol Apin (Source: Janol Apin)

Photograph by Janol Apin (Source: Janol Apin)

Adam Magyar

And then there is Adam Magyar's high-speed camera capture of Metro platform-dwellers in his film Stainless. Here's an excerpt:




Being a commuter myself and having spotted their efforts, I also wanted to highlight in this post that Transport for London is a supporter of artists, running their Art on the Underground projects year round, showcasing 'contemporary art that enriches the Tube environment'.

The London Transport Museum usually has a great exhibition schedule too, and they also do great guided Art and Poster tours for all the typography and design fans, as well as a Behind the scenes at the Museum Depot tour for a nosy at vintage stations signs, old printed ephemera (tickets, leaflets etc) and retro technology (including ticket machines and train control stations). They also have great bitesize 'Depot Discoveries' YouTube series, covering everything from the progression of the underground ticket design to the electric circuit inspired Underground map and the launch of the tourist's favourite, the RM1 Routemaster bus.

So, next time you find yourself on the tube, filter out the countless ads and promotions from your eye-line, unstick yourself from the bubble-gummed seat fabric, calm the conversations of strangers from your mind, and try and spot the artistic beauty that may be surrounding you.

Further links:


legendary Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer
legendary Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer
legendary Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer
Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 19:21