In Pictures: The Satisfying Symmetry Of The London Underground

By Luke Agbaimoni Last edited 6 months ago

Last Updated 30 January 2024

In Pictures: The Satisfying Symmetry Of The London Underground

Luke Agbaimoni — the man behind the Tube Mapper project — tells us about his second book, London Underground Symmetry and Imperfections.

Two tube train rush through parallel platforms at the same time
Oakwood. "A station I imagine many haven't visited. I like the lone commuter here waiting for the train."

I've always enjoyed artistic photography of cityscapes and sunsets, but I realised that I would have less time to capture these images after my first child was born.

I generally always have my camera with me so I had already captured a few images on the London Underground. So I devised a plan to take photographs on my way to work and on my journey home. I'm a patient person, so I knew that I could slowly build a collection of strong visual images this way without taking too much of my free time. This is how the Tube Mapper Project began.

A train rushes through a platform
Mile End. "I like the large space separating the two commuters here. I think the composition is enhanced by the capture of the moving train in a symmetrical arrangement."
Art deco mint, black and cream tiles
"A very special and easy-to-miss tiled doorway frames this narrow pedestrian passage near the entrance of Goodge Street station."
A blue tunnel with a tube train at the end of it
"The train waits at the end of the recently constructed platform on the Northern line at Bank station."

Buildings by their very nature are balanced structures. This means there are many chances to capture symmetrical views inside them. The London Underground architecture dates from the 1860s to now, so there is great joy in exploring the varying styles and historic references that you encounter with the many passenger tunnels, platforms and staircases.

Two hi vis wearing mean walk over the stained glass shadow of a huge roundel
Two workers enter Nine Elms station as the light casts colours beneath them.
Orange bannisters lead down to an Overground train platform
"I love the contrast of the bright handrails and train doors against the saturated walls and stairs at Surrey Quays."
Two trains stopped alongside one another
"The narrow platforms at Clapham Common help to create very dramatic compositions but they can get a little crowded during rush hour."

I usually give myself 30 minutes to assess if a photo is possible. If I am really excited about a composition I will happily wait a couple of hours. It's very fitting that I live in London as I get very excited when it rains. I'm a puddle hunter. Puddles transform a scene, inviting the opportunity to create a unique composition of a familiar scene. I especially enjoy capturing reflections of the city lights in the late evening.

A chandelier hangs over stairs heading down into Balham tube station
"Absolutely lovely architecture by Charles Holden at Balham station. The chandeliers create a dramatic and regal impression as you enter."
A ballet dancer takes a bow in a tubular platform
Taking a bow at Bow

TfL instructs architects, designers and spatial capacity planners to help to control the 'customer flow to and from trains'. This 'flow' is not only useful when predicting the movement of commuters traveling through stations, but also means that people are encouraged to repeat similar movements.

So visually if you're lucky, you can capture passengers mirroring each other.

A young woman in a red dress on a tube platform
"An unplanned shot taken as we headed towards a shoot. Andreya's red dress was a perfect match for the red tiles of Green Park station."
A woman in a red dress 'sprouts wings', created by the roof of tube platforms behind her
Lewisham Angel. "I visited this station many times before I noticed that the platform canopies resemble angel wings when viewed from a low angle."

Watching commuters navigate the London Underground, I've always been fascinated by their interaction with the architecture. I love how the leading lines of a tunnel can enhance the presence of a lone commuter walking down the middle of a pathway. I wanted to explore this concept so I enlisted dancers and gymnasts, people with great control of their form and balance, to help me explore the shapes of the London Underground. The locations chosen were generally outside/under stations where you can see the strong lines and curves of the buildings.

Huge lights that look like whatever Daleks are made of, above a set of escalators
"Appearing like many eyes looking down at you, the platform lights on the Elizabeth line at Paddington make quite the statement."
Looking down an escalator on the Elizabeth line at Whitechapel
"I love the subtle yet powerfully elegant designs of Whitechapel station by architects Hyder and BDP. The shape as you enter the Elizabeth line on the escalator reminds me of the Star Trek logo."
Two Elizabeth line trains at parallel platforms
Custom House. "I had fun taking this composite shot of two shiny new trains on the opening week of the Elizabeth line."

The Elizabeth line has fully opened all 41 stations, increasing my photography challenge to capture moments at all stations on the tube map. The architecture of some of these new stations are very different to their underground counterparts. I would describe them as vast, elegant and understated.

Two DLR trains facing one another
"I've been after this shot for a while and have failed many times. At Bank there is a constant flow of commuters and you have to snap the passing train perfectly central, hoping all is clear. Luckily it finally worked."
A tube train rushes by with two men framed symmetrically in the doors
"A great visual portrayal of how commuters' actions can mirror each other. I love this moment taken at Monument."

Each moment of symmetry in the book is quite special to me. This collection of images has been curated from seven years of images. If I were to choose one image to represent the book, it would be the narrow tiled hallway at Goodge Street. This is because the image is undeniably taken on the London Underground, however what excites me is that many people wouldn't recognise the location.

London Underground Symmetry and Imperfections, by Luke Agbaimoni, published by History Press

All images © Luke Agbaimoni

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