It is 5.30am on a bright Saturday morning in August 2013. My wife Amanda is fast asleep but I have been up for half an hour already. I take a last gulp of coffee, pull on my hoodie and kiss her. She murmurs goodbye as I shut the door. I am two weeks into my quest to photograph all 270 London Underground stations with my iPhone and the first tube will be leaving shortly. Today I will be tackling the eastern section of the Central Line. It promises exotic locations such as Snaresbrook, Hainault and Theydon Bois; names that previously only existed for me on Harry Beck’s iconic map. Over the next three months, I will make countless journeys like this covering hundreds of miles across every corner of London.
What prompted this strange and somewhat geeky adventure? Our baby was due in a few months and I felt anxious about impending fatherhood and all the changes it would bring. The project was a useful distraction to keep the nerves at bay. There was something more to it though; something which began 20 months earlier when I bought a new phone and downloaded Instagram. Since then, I had been gripped with a compulsion to go out every day and take photos.
Before this, photography was something I only did when on holiday or for the occasional family birthday party. Instagram suddenly gave me a reason to take pictures. The shyness I felt when holding a normal camera evaporated when using the phone. It was like wearing an invisibility cloak. Instead of feeling awkward and self-conscious, it gave me the confidence to snap away without worrying about the strange looks of people passing by.
The first picture I uploaded was this rather dull view from our balcony. In the weeks that followed I posted heavily saturated pictures of food, buildings, cafés, football matches and underground stations (I’ll come back to them later). A few likes and comments trickled in and I was soon following other accounts and liking their images. The positive feedback loop was both motivating and addictive. Instagram back then wasn’t the social media giant it has evolved into now. It was a tight-knit community of people taking, editing and sharing photos on their mobile phones. The concept of mobile photography as a separate branch of mainstream photography was taking off and there was a great enthusiasm about discussing new techniques and learning from each other.
I gradually found my own style and discovered what subjects interested me. I enjoyed photographing buildings and normally busy spaces completely empty. I loved finding vanishing points in tunnels, alleyways and corridors. I founded the #extremedepth tag to celebrate these deep perspective shots. My commute to and from work was now taking in strange detours all over London. In the early days I attempted street photography too. I wanted to try out as many styles as I could and it took up nearly all of our spare time (fortunately Amanda was just as hooked as I was). To give you an idea of exactly how much time, I posted 876 photos in that first year alone – double the amount of the next three years put together.
At the end of 2012, things got exciting. My picture above taken at Tottenham Court Road station helped me win a national photo competition and a shiny new iPhone. I was presented with the award at a swanky event in Shoreditch and the photo was in the paper the following morning. After that my work appeared in publications in Germany and Italy as well as here in the UK. I felt as if I was at the heart of an exciting new artistic movement which might even lead to a new career.
It didn’t quite work out like that and any delusions of grandeur I might have been harbouring faded quickly enough. Still, my passion for mobile photography was undiminished. I took a more measured approach the following year; limiting the photos I shared online to what I considered to be my best work. I then came up with ideas for photo projects and tried out publishing my pictures as a series based around a certain theme – handrails, restaurants and launderettes were just some of them.
The London Underground was my favourite subject so it was the obvious choice for a project. People seemed to like my Tube photos and with practice I became attuned to the flows and rhythms of people so I could take the shot in that tiny pocket of time when the platform or tunnel was empty. Without the people blocking the view, these places take on a strange beauty and offer endless opportunities to play with depth of field and perspective.
I can’t remember how it was I decided to visit all 270 stations but the challenge of completing the task before our baby was born appealed to me immediately. I christened it ‘Tube270’. Monumental levels of geekiness were involved and I soon found myself studying timetables and drawing up spreadsheets. The support and encouragement I received on Instagram gave me momentum and I finished the project on 15th November 2013. Mia was born exactly three weeks later.
Mia’s birth was an event that began the shift to the kind of images I produce now. Over the last two years, life has been full of extremes. I have tried to balance the joys and demands of parenthood with being there for my own Dad who was diagnosed with leukaemia in July 2014. He tragically passed away last September aged just 61. During his illness, photography and Instagram seemed very trivial, but they did at least offer a welcome form of escapism. With free time to take new shots almost non-existent, I started revisiting and reinventing my old photos using a combination of apps, taking my work down a completely different route.
I still go out and take photos, but I now get just as much of a buzz from transforming the original image into something else entirely through the editing process. I have become obsessed with symmetry, lines, geometry, shapes and perspective. My ideal picture would have most, if not all of these ingredients. I no longer care about realism, just as long as the final result makes a strong and immediate visual impact.
I hope this site will not only provide a home for my pictures to live outside of Instagram but a place to talk and share ideas about mobile photography, apps and editing techniques. I still feel there is unlimited creative potential to explore within this medium and I am committed to pushing its limits as far as possible.