Bob Mazzer’s photographs capturing shadowy scenes from the London Underground in the 1970s and ‘80s caused a sensation when a selection were first published on local blog Spitalfields Life last summer.
Now, following international acclaim, the Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch presents Mazzer’s debut solo exhibition and a new photobook published by Spitalfields Life showcasing his work documenting the sprawling commuter network.
“Talking about the exhibition and the book I realised that demand was coming from the people on blogs and Facebook, not so much the art market,” Mazzer says.
“It has been really gratifying because that’s who I did the work for really, the man in the street. The internet is a very democratic beast.”
Aldgate-born Mazzer’s first camera was an Ilford Sporty celebrating his Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13 and he has his art teacher to thank for opening a darkroom at Woodberry Down Comprehensive and inspiring him to attend Saturday Art Club at the Hornsey College of Art.
“I suppose it was quite an avant-garde thing to do then, having a darkroom in school in the mid-1960s,” Mazzer says.
“I’ll always remember Euan Duff, a great photojournalist, turning up in his Land Rover and stomping around the darkroom swearing.
“You had the likes of Terence Donovan and David Bailey doing their thing on the fashion scene and then you had Don McCullin and Tony Ray-Jones who were really doing incredible stuff pushing the boundaries of the documentary genre.”
Mazzer eventually left London to go live on a hilltop in rural Wales “with a bunch of freaks and hippies being happy artists” before returning to live in Wood Green after the death of his mother.
Finding a job as a projectionist in a porn cinema called The Office in King’s Cross, Mazzer instinctively began shooting scenes from his late-night commutes.
“I was always looking for unusual, quirky or funny stuff, that moment of recognition between two strangers, and it turned out to be this unwitting social history, a record that no one else had,” he explains.
From wild-haired punks to chain-smoking City suits and weary tourists, Mazzer’s images of an altogether gloomier and grubbier London Underground certainly stand in stark contrast to today’s strip-lit, security-conscious operation.
“Young people are always so surprised that we used to be able to smoke on the Tube,” Mazzer says.
“It’s a different world now I guess, with everyone plugged into their iPhones and iPads. Having said that, I still find it a very relaxed, cosmopolitan, egalitarian space. There’s social harmony there –
despite the odd bomb.”
Bob Mazzer: Underground is at Howard Griffin Gallery, 189 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6HU until 13 July.