Ian Chambers gets behind the lens with the Tube Mapper
Luke Agbaimoni is the photographer behind a project capturing photos of London Tube stations and transport network, culminating in a website, calendar and soon, his first book. Ian Chambers met him to find out more
How did this all start?
I went to art school and studied graphic design because I thought that would be a wiser route, financially, than the traditional art route and I became a graphic designer, working from an office near the Excel centre, next to Royal Victoria Dock. I fell in love with the docklands – it’s one of the nicest places to experience the sunset in London, because you’re surrounded by open water. Especially Royal Victoria Dock, with a bridge across from where you can see incredible sights.
It was around that time that I got into photography. I’d walk around in my lunch break, with a camera, taking picture of the docklands. I very much like reflections, juxtaposed with buildings and water at night – you get nice neon colours and a weird representation of something that’s very familiar.
At that time, there was a competition run by the DLR with the theme “real views”. I entered the competition and, luckily, I won. The prize was an Olympus camera – my first serious camera. It pushed me in the direction of taking it more seriously.
Do you still use that camera?
I love Olympus, but that was a long time ago and technology has moved on; I now shoot with a Sony. But as the saying goes, the most important camera is the one you have on you. If you spend a fortune on some crazy gear, but you never take it out, what’s the point? So, you buy something that’s comfortable for you to carry.
My first child was on the way about four years ago and I realised my free time taking pictures of sunsets was probably going to disappear, and I needed a new project to fit around my new lifestyle, and the TubeMapper project was born.
I realised I could take pictures on my daily commute, taking different routes to and from work, and make a collection of photos.
What sort of response did you get to the Tubemapper website?
I put the site up and wasn’t sure what interest this would have. I assumed rail enthusiasts, architects and historians might be interested. The tube network is like a living museum that you’re walking through, and then you’ve got the contrast of modern architecture. You normally have five million daily users going through these places every day, sharing these daily experiences – there’s beautiful tiling, staircases, symmetry, the colours. When I post a picture, it’s amazing how many people recognise it and say, “yeah, I love that”.
People who wouldn’t normally even talk to each other on the Tube were responding to me and telling me great places to go to get a picture. Someone told me that at Embankment you can stand in a particular place and see the London Eye arching over the Underground roundel. These places have great, deep meaning for us.
I see in your photos you love reflections and symmetry in particular?
I quite like to capture a different perspective on something, like lower down, from a child’s perspective. When it’s raining, I think it’s amazing, especially at night in the city, you start to see things by shape and effect. It becomes more powerful and abstract.
Is there a particular “perfect shot” which you were really pleased to get?
“Perfectly central at St Paul’s” – it has old red and white tiling and so, if you time it with the train in the middle between the pillars, you get the abstract image of alternate red/white/red/white… It’s powerful because of its simplicity, but also a difficult shot, to get it when the train is exactly in the centre.
So, you went from a website and social media to a calendar for 2020?
It was requested by many people and, being a graphic designer, I could put it together myself. The hardest thing was choosing just 12 pictures, but it was well received, and meant I was interacting with people about the pictures, about the ones they like, about their favourite station. So, for instance, the August picture is Saffy, the cat living at Brockley station, who seems to be waiting for a train! It’s quite nice to have people enjoy these big parts of London. The Underground is the heartbeat of the city.
After the memorable 2020 calendar, there’s another planned for next year, and a book too?
It was always an idea that could happen, and it has just happened organically. I thought about a book for each line, but then I thought collections of types of photos; so, for the first book – reflections, covering different stations. I’ve also got poetry in there too, which people submitted to me online.
The Tube Mapper Project is due to come out at the beginning of October and will be available at all good bookshops.
Cover image: Saffy The Cat Waits – Brockley
“I was surprised when entering rockley station to be greated by the station at Saffy. The very pleasant cat briefy posed for me to get this image which looks like she is waiting for a train”.
Images courtesy of and © The Tube Mapper
Ian Chambers FRSA is a long-time resident of East London and has been a charity trustee and school governor. In 2013 he established East London Radio, the area’s first ever radio station run by and for the local community, giving a positive message about our area.
To find out more: firstname.lastname@example.org