Book Review: London Underground 1970-1980, Mike Goldwater

Written by EdsAdminLDNphoto on . Posted in London Photo Diary

TO THE TRAINS: It couldn’t be any clearer. I moved to London not much more than a year ago, but within weeks I had identified the stretch of Northern Line between my home in Stockwell and my workplace near Waterloo as rightfully ‘mine’. Kennington Station remains the bane of my existence. Every commuter knows ‘their spot’ on the platform and prides themselves on finding the most efficient routes through the relentless crowds that endlessly dwell below the thick crust of London streets. To squeeze into a sardine-tin carriage is to commit to fifteen minutes of inhuman discomfort to avoid thirty minutes of inconvenience open to the elements. Yet, the iconography of The Tube has become so prolific it almost surpasses that of the city it serves. The London Underground belongs to pop-culture but is lived by the Londoner.

North London’s own Mike Goldwater delves below the surface and presents his archive of candid portraits set in 70s London in his new book, London Underground 1970-1980, from Hoxton Mini Press. The book, bound in Metropolitan Line purple, is Hoxton Mini Press’ sixth addition to their Vintage Britain series and comes all but six months after Harry F. Conway’s hit debut, Bakerloo, was self-published to great success. 

Goldwater reveals the peculiar in familiar scenes, the intimate moment in shared space, the self absorbed in their droves. He paints The Underground in a loving and personal light as a passive observer. He leaves the voyeurism that often hides in a matte black and white print at the gateline and becomes the passenger, like any other. From Goldwater’s level perspective, we are granted an honest view into familiar spaces locked in a distant yet familiar historical ballad. Goldwater manages to cut through the cigarette smoke and pushes the physical capabilities of analogue film to its limits. Being raised on The Underground, Goldwater had a keen eye for the quirky and the awkward – finding glimpses into the lives of others so often missed by those lost to the thought of which stop just flew past them.

Lucy Davies provides foreword: “Insulated and invisible” places the viewer into a mindset that has become synonymous with that subsurface world – one that has remained unchanged from well before even Goldwater’s explorations. From thereon out, Goldwater chooses to limit captions to a specific line or station, and year. You find yourself hunting for recognisable landmarks that might have stood the test of time only to discover a rich otherworldliness in wooden pipes and advertising that would be damned as problematic by modern sensibilities. Foregoing chronology, Goldwater arranges his archive with little sense of narrative or rhythm, but in doing so creates a timeless playfulness that dances around any sort of political agenda.

London Underground 1970-1980 releases on 7th November, by Hoxton Mini Press.

-Joe Burrows

Joe Burrows studies Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC and is an editor of London Photography Diary. While primarily identifying as a documentary photographer, he has begun producing written content for London Photography Diary and other online and print publications. He is currently developing a long term photographic project exploring the social impacts of the UK energy transition.