24 Hours on the London Underground Night Tube.


On the 18th of November 2016 I took a trip. A 24 hour trip. I didn’t have a destination in mind or plan for that matter but it would involve spending 24 hours on the London Underground Night Tube – specifically the Northern Line and it’s stations. So I’d get the first train at 5.25am on Thursday 18th right through to the same time the following morning of the 19th November. Crazy right?

05.15 – Balham Station

There were two things that motivated this project; the first and probably less important was that I’d been planning the purchase of a new camera, the delicious Fuji XT2. I won’t go into too much detail about the camera here, however I will follow up with a separate blog  post for this so if you’re gear head like me then hopefully you’ll find it insightful. The second and main reason for this project was down to the fact that the Northern Line has been a “life line” for the past year of my life and knowing that the 18th November was the first day the line would offer a night tube service had me a little excited. I’ll have to rewind a little to tell you my story so you can hopefully understand why I decided this was a good idea. Believe me after 12 hours on the tube, I wasn’t so sure it was.

I’ve spent my life in Essex and East London travelling not much further than Liverpool street and Shoreditch unless an interesting gig would drag me to Brixton – just about as South as I would go. My life revolved around East London and I was happy with that and never thought I’d need anything else. However after a pretty bad break up in 2012 I found myself moving out of Essex and into Hackney to start exploring what London has to offer. I basically wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t take me long to see exactly what it was about and I found myself inspired and happy. 2 months after my move and when I felt at my most settled, something happened. Well someone happened. Rebecca stumbled into my life. Those transcendent eyes lit like beacons had me from hello. She lived in South London which meant that I’d have to start crossing the river to see her, something I was actually pretty uncomfortable about doing. Not for any reason other than I did’t know where anything was or where we could go – it was down to Rebecca to show me the ropes. 7 months after dating we decided to move in together and with her work being in Colliers Wood and at the time my job as a print producer at a creative agency being by Goodge Street Station, we made a call to move to Balham. This was the best decision we could have made, it’s a wonderful place. So the life line thing began at this point. For the first time in my life I was riding the Northern Line everyday to work and the only way I could see my family or friends was with this line, up to Bank and on from there. It kept me connected to my world when I felt at my most vulnerable.

The underground is a strange place, volatile, quiet and where it should feel uncomfortable at times it can be incredibly calming. You feel disconnected, well from station to station anyway. But sometimes I feel like it’s the only place I really get to think without any distractions. What I find the most fascinating is the people; I’ll sit on a train looking at every person wondering what they’re thinking, where they’re going if they’re happy, if they’re scared, if they’ve had enough, or if they aren’t thinking at all. Sometimes I’ll catch eyes with someone and smile to have the joy of them reciprocate, and for a brief moment, we’ve connected. It’s a nice feeling, a smile goes such a long way when things don’t quite make sense in your life. But other times I’ll quickly look away in fear that I’m invading their space.

08.43 – London Bridge Station 

So the photography was just an opportunity to capture these moments and save them for myself to have a constant reminder about this period of my life, which has most certainly been the most significant so far. I didn’t really have a plan as I’ve said and I just wanted to capture what I saw, nothing contrived and nothing forced. There’s so many beautiful moments happening around you all the time it’s just a case of observing I guess.

23.40 – Angel Station

RIDE WITH ME

The first 3 hours of my journey were slow. People are tired and you can see this in their faces; those people that have been doing the same journey for what must feel like forever to make ends meet, to support the ones they love or to keep the ones they hate at bay. Something about the way a train slowly moves from side to side that makes you feel like you’re being rocked to sleep. It’s hard to fight that fatigue.

Between 05.43 – 07.01 – Various 

With rush hour creeping up far quicker than I expected, I decided to head North, way up to Finchley and watched the sun rising. The skies were a beautiful tone of blue, it felt so serene and people just seemed more awake, more in tune with the day ahead.

07.19 – Finchley Central 

But as we approached Camden, inevitably the train became congested, but surprisingly calm. Maybe I was calm? I had nothing to rush for no where to go, no agenda for the day.

08.42 –  Heading South

Sure when you looked hard enough you could sense the anxiety in the air whilst people chased the morning to clock in on time, but even this seemed so systematic, people seamlessly headed in their direction and before I knew what time it was, it was over. It all slowed down so quickly.

09.21 –  London Bridge Station

The day progressed so quickly following this. I spent a lot of time admiring the lines and light that the underground creates and watched people as they embraced the opportunity to enjoy the calm.

11.18 – 16.21 – Various 

18.26 – Moorgate Station

21.06 – Kings Cross Station

One thing I didn’t expect was how it felt from 11pm onwards. To be honest this was the time I most feared. What if I get mugged? What if some drunkard decides to intimidate me and take my camera? But it didn’t feel this way at all and maybe we owe it to the London Underground Night Tube Service? No one seemed stressed about missing the last train or worried that their friend who decided to go for another box of nuggets wouldn’t make it.

23.14 – 03.46 – Various

People just went about their business and boarded trains when it suited them. People were asleep on stairs and benches but this wasn’t met with hostility, instead with concern, not only by the staff but regular people.

02.46 – No idea where I photographed this one. At this point it was all bit of a blur as I’d been awake for 21 hours.

So 24 hours later how did I feel? Tired, delirious and broken to be honest. I questioned why I even bothered the more exhausted I became, but something come over me in that last hour. A feeling that we are going to be ok. Yes the news and media tell us we’re doomed, but I don’t buy it. We’re going to be ok because when all is said and done we care about one another and we have to stay connected. Rather we want to stay connected to each other. Be it with a train, with a car, with a bike, with a phone or even with the smallest smile. We need each other.

MORE IMAGES FROM THE SERIES BELOW

Join the discussion 32 Comments

  • Matthew Long says:

    Mate, absolutely love this. Such an ambitious and difficul project to take on and I’ve got nothing but admiration for you seeing it through. Great set of images, you’ve shown that street photography doesn’t always have to be about single images, full sets can really tell a story.

  • silviya says:

    Ah i really enjoyed it and you came so close to the people. Not an easy task but absolutely nailed it!

  • Such a cool idea and the photos are epic!! Great work!

  • Ozan Redjep says:

    I don’t know how you managed to do this but it is amazing!

  • Sachin Khona says:

    Great storytelling Tarik!

  • ben says:

    A joy to look through.

  • Jane Briers says:

    Blown away by this Tarik. Fantastic idea, but also so well executed. There’s a real warmth to the pictures which is amazing considering the environment. You have almost romanticised the Underground! No mean feat. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with next….

  • Sally Wright says:

    Brilliant photos, I grew up in London on the Victoria and northern line, near Brixton. Thanks Tarik

  • Joe Short says:

    Really enjoyed this journey!

  • Paul says:

    Good stuff
    It’s inspiration for a Tokyo mirror 🙂

  • Greg Bookman says:

    Bwuuuuuvs, this is amazing!! I absolutely love it. As a newly recruited Northern Liner myself it has a completely different feel than any other line; particularly Central.

    Really proud of you mate, brilliant xx

  • Yiping says:

    I lived in Beijing and now in Hong Kong, most time people in the underground are anxious, desperate, and hurry.But your photo reminds me the good part of it, chatting with friends and strangers, sightseeing out of the window. By the way, I am learning photography and so excited about it!

    • Tarik says:

      Thanks for the comment Yiping, I recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong – It’s a fantastic city. I’d love to return sometime soon to spend more time there, it’s such an exciting place to photograph. Good luck with the photography, look forward to seeing some of your work, stay in touch – here’s my Instagram @photogbytarik

  • Santosh says:

    Splendid work Tarik. Loved the entire series. Really captured the essence and emotions of the people traveling on the tube. Its commendable that you were able to get really close.

    • Tarik says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Santosh. Yea it was intimidating at times, but I just tried to be as subtle as possible and it seemed to go unnoticed – most of the time 🙂

  • Mark Robinson says:

    Wonderful work! I am curious, when you are doing street photography such as the Tube project, what is your approach? Do you try to be so discreet that people don’t realize you are photographing them, or do you just snap freely?

    The reason I ask is that just last week I was in NY and on the subway a lot. So many photo ops, but I was a bit intimidated to try to take photos.

    Thanks!

    • Tarik says:

      Hi Mark, thanks so much for your comment and taking the time to look through the project. Yea it’s just a case of being as discreet as possible and taking advantage of the flippy screen, if you have one on your camera? Silent shutter functions are also really useful to make sure you’re going un-noticed. But then again I know a lot of brilliant photographers that use camera’s without these advantageous elements that are still getting great shots, so it’s just a case of knowing your gear and trusting the shot you’re about to take and how to do it quickly. Hope that helps and look forward to seeing some of your work in the NY subway! I’d love to come over and shoot in your city sometime! 🙂

  • Kaan G says:

    Great pictures. I loved that every photo tells a story.
    You somehow managed to capture people with their natural expressions.
    I see that you carry an XT, and it is really hard to keep that thing unnoticed and take these candid shots.
    Thank you for the inspiration.
    Today I am going to take the subway and try to grab some shots

    Keep up the good work!

    • Tarik says:

      Thanks for the comment Kaan – great to hear you found the project inspiring! Best of luck dude and have fun on the Subway.

      Tarik

  • […] sa série « 24 hours on the London Underground Night Tube », le photographe local Tarik Ahmet a voyagé dans le premier service de nuit de la ligne du nord […]

Leave a Reply