I was born on a small Scottish island, living there until I was eighteen, Despite – or maybe because of – this, I have always felt that, by nature, I am a creature of the city. I enjoy the bustle, the sense that things are forever changing and evolving around me, that nothing is ever static. But also, I enjoy the anonymity offered to me by my unmarked presence in a crowd of which I am only a small part.
In his book, The Language of Cities, Deyan Sudjik explores this tension between being alone and yet – at the same time – of being part of something much greater than just your experience of it. He sets out the ways by which those who belong to a city differ from those how simply visit. And of the many ways that people can acquire a sense of belonging in that most rootless of modern places, one of the most potent is to be found in the way people navigate their way through the the complexities of its public transport system.
Based on the most recent available statistics (collected in 2016) more than 225,000 people enter or exit Oxford Circus Station daily, making it the fourth busiest station on the London Underground. Eight times a week I pass through Oxford Circus station on my way to or from work. Normally, I join the further mass of people who change from one line to another without actually leaving the station.
We find ways to idnetify where we need to stand in order to be in front of a door when the next train finishes sliding into the station and we make sure we will be in the right carriage to leave our final stop by the shortest route. We have glyphs and other markers; marks on the wall and scuffed spots on the platform. We recognise other people doing the same and identify with them; we may even begin to spot the same faces recurring, day by day, over time.
But as we make our daily commute, we shut our eyes or find other ways of vanishing into ourselves, into our phones, our newspapers or our books. We do not make eye contact with one another; nor do we stare. We distance ourselves, becoming alone again amongst the thronging people around us. But at the same time, sharing transport helps makes us part of a functioning community, not getting in one another’s’ way, standing on the right and walking on the left and letting people get off the train before boarding ourselves. We share our journeys with each other even if we only rarely acknowledge this..
Normally when I am taking pictures, I feel that I am putting distance – a pane of glass perhaps – between myself and the event or thing or person that I am photographing. Taking the pictures for this project has worked differently, opening me up to my surroundings, making me more aware of the people who surround me as I travel to work. I am able to see myself reflected back at me as they do the same things that I do.
They say there are a million stories in the naked city; mine is just one of them and parts of it are very like the many other people’s stories, too…
This post shows the possible layout for an installation of the photographs. The three asterisks indicate individual groups of pictures with the following block of pictures appearing further along a wall or working clockwise round a room.
There is a separate post here, displaying the pictures as a slideshow and with no variation in picture size, that probably works better as an online thing, without the need to scroll.
- Sudjic, Deyan (2017) The Language of Cities. London, Penguin