Worldwide icon-chevron-right Europe icon-chevron-right United Kingdom icon-chevron-right England icon-chevron-right London icon-chevron-right These pictures reveal what the tube was like in the ’70s

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Kiss at Holborn, March 1978.Photo by Mike Goldwater
Photograph: Mike Goldwater Kiss at Holborn, March 1978.Photo by Mike Goldwater

These pictures reveal what the tube was like in the ’70s

Mike Goldwater's photography captures the time when smoking a pipe on your commute was totally fine

By Isabelle Aron

Mike Goldwater spent the 1970s taking photos of the tube. Now – almost 50 years later – he’s finally publishing them. He talks us through his favourite shots from his new Hoxton Mini Press book ‘London Underground’. 

Kiss at Holborn, March 1978 (pictured above)

‘This was at Holborn, at the parting of the ways between Piccadilly and Central lines. I was people-watching and this pair lingered there for a moment. They were so engrossed in each other, I don’t think they clocked me at all. The time on this picture is documented as 4.08pm. Why were they kissing at 4.08pm on a weekday? It could be that they’d just come into town and he was going off to work. Or maybe it was an office romance, who knows? I was pleased to capture a moment of stillness and intimacy in a space often characterised by rush and anonymity. I was trying to reveal something about life on the Underground, how we all survive it.’

Last train, Northern line,
February 1975

Last train, Northern line, February 1975Photograph: Mike Goldwater

‘I saw these two sleeping teenagers when I was on the last train home after an event. It just so happened that as the train pulled into Camden Town, it stopped at the point at which the billboard image lined up and I could capture the couple on the billboard looking in with their static smiles. I think the guy on the far right hand side was smoking as well, probably thinking: It’s the last train, who cares? So it was slightly anarchic next to the “no smoking” sign. There’s a mystery on the Underground; everybody’s got a story, but if you stopped to talk to everybody you’d never get anywhere.’

A pipe-smoker engrossed in his book, Metropolitan line,
April 1973

A pipe-smoker engrossed in his book, Metropolitan line, April 1973 Photograph: Mike Goldwater

‘As a child, I used to go to school on the Underground and all of the carriages were open smoking, so the whole place stank. After a while, they brought in smoking carriages so you could only smoke in those – this was taken in one of those. Pipes and cigars were particularly pungent – stale tobacco often lingered on my clothes by the end of days working underground. This guy’s got his pipe lit, you can see a bit of smoke coming out from the bowl. He was engrossed in his book and enjoying a personal moment. There’s something about how people retreat into their own personal space on the tube – the fact that this guy could sit on the Metropolitan line as if he’s at home in his armchair and read his book.’

Passenger reading braille on a rush hour train, Central line,
October 1972

Passenger reading braille on a rush hour train, Central line, October 1972Photograph: Mike Goldwater

‘I was on the station platform taking pictures, and the doors opened and there was this guy. I thought: Why are his hands placed like that? I realised he was blind and reading a book in braille. The crowded carriage meant he couldn’t hold his book up, but he could hold his book down and carry on reading regardless. I remember the sensation of taking that picture and the sense that this was an image that worked. It’s not just the guy reading braille, it’s the other people in the frame who also make it – the arm, the half-revealed person behind – together they frame him. I was glad to capture the moment, so routine and yet so unusual. It spurred me on with this project.’

A passenger chats with staff at Westbourne Park,
August 1979

Westbourne Park, 1979Photo by Mike GoldwaterPhotograph: Mike Goldwater

‘I started this project in 1970. At the start, if a member of Underground staff saw me, they’d generally tell me to stop taking pictures, so I often needed to find a place where you wouldn’t be discovered straight away. But by this point I’d printed out a small set of pictures to show people what I was doing. When I came across Underground staff I’d show them the pictures and they were always fine about it. This was Carnival weekend – I think it was Children’s Day, so it was much quieter. When I took this picture, people were on their way; it might have been around midday. I had photographed the young girl with her mother in the ticket hall a few moments before. She was interested to see what I’d photograph next, and her confident pose made this work.’
‘London Underground 1970-1980’ by Mike Goldwater is out on Hoxton Mini Press. £16.95. 

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