Bob Mazzer on the Tube

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Bob Mazzer on the Tube
Bob Mazzer on the Tube© Bob Mazzer

AnOther's Lovers winner Nathalie Olah celebrates an anarchic slice of London's subterranean life

This is just one shot from photographer Bob Mazzer’s glorious collection of images taken on the London underground during the 70s and 80s, when he was commuting from his father’s house in Aldgate to “The Office” – a gleefully named porn cinema in Kings Cross where he worked as a projectionist. Here, in a image Loved by writer Nathalie Olah, he captures two ladies heading home from the pub – Scotch for one, the dregs of a pint for another – who are clearly reluctant to bring their evening to a close. “Coming home late at night, it was like a party,” he recalled in an interview with Spitalfields Life, “I felt the tube was mine and I was there to take pictures.”

The subterranean world of the subway is eternally fascinating. As individuals flock underground, a unique stage is set that forces intimacy between utterly disparate people, often exposing behaviour that is usually kept firmly behind closed doors. Everyone has a disgusting tube story, a hilarious one, a terrifying one, or a dull tale about a time we got trapped between stations for an unjustifiably long time. But for all the grime, technical difficulties, insufficient seats and the idiots who press the defunct button on the tube door, try to get on before you get off and play Club Classics at top volume on their oversized Samsung, there is a romance to life underground that can never be denied. And it is this sense of a world momentarily adrift from its strict moorings that is reflected in Mazzer’s lens – in the snogging teenagers, willfully obstreperous punks, exhausted bankers and the slumped victims of an office party gone terribly embarrassing. Today the tube is supposed to be different: sanitised, calm, with alcohol banned and every unscheduled halt requiring a scripted apology from the driver. But really, thankfully, it’s pretty much the same.

"For all the idiots playing Club Classics at top volume on their oversized Samsung, there is a romance to life underground that can never be denied"

Here we speak to Olah about her love for this picture, her favourite tube station and the advice she'd give to any clueless tourist coming to London – just as long as they didn't ask her the way to London Bridge.

Why did you choose to love this photo?
It feels as though London is being stripped of everything that was once great about it. Rents are soaring and places like Southbank, which used to feel organic, are being systematically destroyed. This photo seems to come straight from a time when London really was a place people lived in, drank in and made questionable fashion choices in. Now it feels as though the culture of the city is being levelled, ironed of all its strange folds and creases.

Where would you put it if you owned it?
Well, living in London is proving more and more difficult, so probably on the wall of some flat in a European city I've been forced to relocate to in order to have a basic standard of living.

Who is your favourite street photographer?
I love the photos Mary Ellen Mark took of the kids in Seattle for LIFE which led to her husband, Martin Bell, making the documentary Streetwise. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube. It's really great. The kids – Rat, Shellie and Tiny – put us all to shame with their emotional intelligence. Despite living on the streets of the city and being forced into prostitution and theft, there's a lot of style to the way they lived.

Which is your favourite tube station?
Aldgate East. It's painted this sort of strange, sickly yellow colour and is almost always empty during the day. It's a haunting place. I also quite like Westminster in terms of structure, although it could do with losing the hoards of Australian backpackers asking me for directions to London Bridge (i.e. Tower Bridge).

Do you have a particularly funny or strange memory from a time on the tube?
There's always the hazard of sitting next to an ex-boyfriend, which has happened to me more than once. Also in moments of protracted adolescence and after a few drinks, writing W. B. Yeats quotes on the walls of the station with a sharpie while waiting for the train.

Do you have a good tube tip for tourists?
Ride the DLR far out East because it feels a bit like a rollercoaster.

What are you looking forward to about the end of August?
Carnival. The seasonal rotation of vegetables.

What was the last thing you bought?
A pair of Nike sliders from JD Sports.