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Saturday, December 17, 2011

London Underground: Architecture, Design & History Book Review - 12 Days of Tube-Mas - Books as Xmas Gifts

One of the most beautiful books about the London Underground I have ever seen (& trust me, I've seen a lot).  This new book
London Underground: Architecture, Design & History by David Long with 80 amazing black and white photographs by Jane Magarigal dating back from the 1970's "weaves the story of the Underground - its abundance of characters (some good, some not so good), design firsts and brand identity. From suburban expansion to Blitz bombings and Soviet adulation, this book celebrates what remains a magnificent engineering and aesthetic achievement while providing an affectionate if slightly elegiac portrait of a London which is now gone for good."

London Underground - Architecture, Design and History by David Long & Jane Magarigal
That was the book's "blurb" but I was extremely lucky enough to receive a review copy of the book, with the wonderful new book smell adding to the atmospheric "empty London Underground" shots. 

I could have spent most of this review focusing on David's hard work documenting the history of the London Underground where he looks at all people who made the Tube look how it does today. That includes its many architects to font designers like Edward Johnston and of course Harry Beck who designed the most popular Tube Map in the 1930's which we still base our current map on.

Chapter on Edward Johnston
However, the photography is so stunning that it really becomes the book's hero and as many of you know the allure & spookiness of looking at photographs of an empty Tube, and may be keen photographers yourself, I want to turn my attention to the photography.

The story of how Jane Magarigal came to take this photographs was really fascinating to me as it shows how just an outsider's love of the Tube, photography, hard work & patience can eventually pay off. Jane is American and first came to London in 1976 and was struck by the beauty of the London Underground when she arrived.

From London Underground: Architecture, Design & History
"In one of the most beautiful & interesting cities in the world, I became a mole, travelling hundreds of miles exploring one stop after another, never knowing what was above ground. Unless I was running errands or visiting friends, I never left the stations because it would cost to get back in".

As this started off as a personal project, like most amateur photographers, Jane did not buy a license for photography and said: "Other than needing to avoid Tube employees, photographing the Underground had several technical disadvantages such a low lights and crowds. Shooting in this space required that I push the speed of the film to allow for the low light - another reason for shooting architecture rather than people.... 



From London Underground: Architecture, Design & History

"a monopod or tripod is recommended in order to get sharp pictures - dangerous to use in crowds, extremely time consuming and awkward if needing to leave the area quickly. So I stood planted firmly to the earth, elbows tucked tightly to my diaphragm and held my breath, waiting for just the right moment when, for example, all people had vacated the area or when a commuter hit the right spot."

Earl's Court from London Underground: Architecture, Design & History
As many of the images were taken in the 1970's they actually look "historical" already.  Jane attempted to market her shots but the time wasn't right.  She also went back to America but in 2009 returned to London and bought the series back to life with digital photography.

Back cover of  London Underground: Architecture, Design & History

She concluded "I have always considered photography an art form.  Consideration of form, design, balance and when to include people are decisions an artist makes.  This collection is a metaphor that speaks to our separate and perhaps our lonely existence, among the multitudes, and hence the people in these shots are primarily by themselves: they come, they go, temporarily filling a space and rarely glancing at one another, reading or staring off into space or at maps and posters - they are for the most part in their own worlds 

Underground at night London Underground: Architecture, Design & History

The more architectural shots, void of people, speak of this as well.  It is when stations are empty of people that the history of the place comes alive.  For without the bustle of people one can feel the energy of by gone days - the Blitz raging overhead, the architects and designers' choices, the souls of plague victims unearthed in the building of the London Underground, the millions of people who have travelled through this miraculous labyrinth; all of this is there".

I'd like to thank The History Press for sending me a copy to review, but also for seeing the possibility of this book and not letting these pictures and David's story remain unseen.  The book is  available on The History Press's site and also on Amazon.  Any lover of photography, history, London and the London Underground would be happy to receive this as a gift.

You might also like
Walking the London Underground, Overground
Aldwych Underground Station Tours - November & December 2011
Railway Maps of the World - Mark Ovenden Guest Post
Has the London Underground Map lost its way? - Maps after Beck


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