London by bus
The project is about experiences of travelling around London on its celebrated red buses, a continuing source of fascination and curiosity. The photographs concentrate on spatial relationships with other commuters during journeys to Goldsmiths College.
In London there is something which I have not seen anywhere else in the world - that is the red double-decker bus. With childish joy I place myself in the front of the upper deck – above the driver – and with a good view of the streets below. It feels like floating around high above the ground, always something new around the next corner.
I feel curious about the Londoners. I admire their variety of hair- and dress-styles; people of different colours, ages, clothing, a variety of languages, and they are all mixed together - by co-incidence - on their way to their different destinations. I place myself further back and begin to play with my camera.
Buses are supposed to be a means of transportation, not meeting-places. We all come from somewhere and are on our way. Still, sitting in our seats, we spend our time together, staying there until we arrive at our planned destination. Normally, we do not notice the streets outside nor do we notice each other. Rather, we dis-connect from our surroundings and the people next to us, withdraw into ourselves and let our thoughts flow, and just wait. But our eyes meet and sighs are shared when something interrupts the movement of the bus, like traffic-jams or construction-work.
The bus-culture is polite and egalitarian. Everybody agree – without saying a word - that no one has any right to stick themselves in front of others, neither when entering the bus, nor for paying nor for capturing seats. But there is also a tacit agreement that those that are least privileged elsewhere – like those that have responsibilities for others or some physical disability shall have priority. These are the only criteria for being privileged. As such, the bus-culture is different from the rest of the society, probably it is Britain’s most inclusive and cosmopolitan culture.
We are there together, but still not together. A protected private space is respected and interaction is consciously reduced to a minimum. At least, that is what one may expect. But sometimes, one curiously wonders who is sitting next to you? With broken English, I make a small and careful invitation that would not be impolite to reject, like ”nice weather today”, ”now it is spring”, ”that was an honest day’s work”, ”oh, that horrible war”, ”what language was that, was it Portuguese?” And then the conversation starts.
A young boy is on his way to work at a local theatre that raises money for drug-addicts. A man newly arrived from Nigeria – deeply concentrating in his French-English dictionary –explains that he is looking for a wife. A bus driver says he is working to raise money so he can travel around the USA. A tired school-teacher tells me about his worries for his class and the youngsters growing up in central London. After listening to the noisy laughter of a group of schoolchildren, an elderly woman argues that parents should be fined for their behaviour. After small-talking about the English spring, a man says that our conversation has changed his day. A big woman says “God bless you” when she gets my seat. Nobody has said that to me before! And if you are confused about where you are getting off, an honest question is never rejected - is this Elephant? Then suddenly the “whole bus” is eager to help.
Altogether, there is a calm, relaxed and polite atmosphere on the bus. It doesn’t feel like a strange place anymore, rather, a great source of stories.
This is a composition of recordings from busrides in Central and South East London and ends outside a bus stop in Whitechapel.
This text and selected photographs were published in Street Signs, CUCR´s Newsletter, Vol. 1, Issue 6, Spring 2004
The photographs and sound composition were part of the No Right Turn exhibition in London in 14th - 17th of September 2006.