Going Underground

I’m not sure what it is about the underground that I find so alluring. I think it has something to do with it being so unnatural, an artificial place created out of the impassible ground for a singular purpose. It’s the kind of space that is usually created for secretive reasons, hidden from the world above, the kind of place that you are normally Not. Allowed. To. Go.

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I remember going to London once as a child, and the concept of going underground to get on a train being something totally alien to me. I don’t think I ever grew out of that feeling and later, while spending my university holidays in London, I tried to capture that feeling on film.

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The images here are recent scans from old negatives that I have brought back to life using some heavy processing in Lightroom. I was going through my high speed film phase when I shot these, regularly using Delta 3200 (or HP5+ pushed to 1600) to shoot with heavy red filtration in dimly lit places to create properly gritty results. However great big lumps of grainy goodness don’t scan very well at all.

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Even with the high film speed (and no filters) I was handholding the camera at 1/15th type shutter speeds using F2.8 lenses. The resulting movements, flare and grain all add up to make it look like I shot these on a bad camera phone, not an effect I like to shoot for. The saving grace is that the latitude of monochrome negative film means I can pull back something to work with and managed to get a ‘high key’ look works well enough.

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For the untold thousands who use the underground every day it’s a mere appliance, something to be endured. Where as I am an explorer, with a sense of wonder and an all zones day pass. I rode around for hours doing my exploring, detouring to ride the longest escalator in Europe (Angel station), to travel the original 1843 Brunel tunnel under the Thames (on the East London line) and to catch glimpses of long abandoned stations such as The British Museum.

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I shot several rolls of film in my endeavor to capture some of the essence of the place, both down in the stations and in the areas above into which one emerges bleary-eyed from the darkness. I managed to get a range of images that I like and this set captures the feeling of being in London Below in a way that I like.

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Oh, and don’t forget to Mind The Gap.

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