Matt Crabtree

A photographer finds transcendence on the Tube.

Bored during his daily commute through London one day, photographer Matt Crabtree, like his fellow Tube dwellers, was staring at his phone. When he looked up, he saw “a woman that was held in a moment that just looked so beautiful and serene,” Crabtree tells CityLab over email. She was “lit from above by the harsh Tube lighting, reading a book that could’ve been a treasured prayer book from centuries past—a million miles away from the Tube carriage 200 feet below London.”

Crabtree raised his phone and snapped a picture. A self-taught photographer and a creative director at an advertising agency in London, the Yorkshire resident was inspired by the results to embark on a series of commuter photographs.

Matt Crabtree

He uses a retouching app to doctor the images, muting the background and softening the glow around people’s faces; his iPhone-shot commuters resemble Renaissance paintings of penitents illuminated by the grace of God, rather than the fluorescent lights of the Underground.

His 16th-Century Tube Passengers series is all a bit tongue-in-cheek; Crabtree says the idea really solidified around a portrait he snapped of a woman in a velvet hooded top that looked straight out of the Renaissance. But it was the faces of his fellow commuters that captivated. “Those strong side profiles, those slightly whimsical daydreamers looking to the heavens—we see these images in Renaissance paintings, and we feel they’re so forced and contrived by the painter,” he says.

Matt Crabtree

But the distinctive faces exist in real life; they peek out from the silent crowds on the Underground. London’s transit culture frowns upon interpersonal communication. Stridently avoiding eye contact and conversation, Londoners ride the Tube in bubbles of introspection, lost in their iPhones and headphones. While those divisions between people are the stuff of modernity, the bliss of a solitary moment, Crabtree says, cuts across centuries. “It’s kind of funny,” he says, “that our daily technology can capture that in a heartbeat.”

Matt Crabtree
Matt Crabtree
Matt Crabtree

H/t: Fubiz

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A woman wheels a suitcase on a platform toward a train.
    Transportation

    In Denmark's Train Dream, the Next Big City Is Only an Hour Away

    A newly revived rail plan could see Denmark’s trains catch up with its reputation for other types of green transit.

  2. A photo of anti-gentrification graffiti in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification

    A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

  3. A crowded street outside in Boston
    Life

    Surveillance Cameras Debunk the Bystander Effect

    A new study uses camera footage to track the frequency of bystander intervention in heated incidents in Amsterdam; Cape Town; and Lancaster, England.                            

  4. A polar-bear cub sits on a rock outcropping as a crowd looks on in the background.
    Design

    What Zoo Design Reveals About Human Attitudes to Nature

    Author Natascha Meuser describes zoo architecture as a “masquerade” that borrows from museums, prisons, and theaters.

  5. Life

    Are These the Last Vape Shops in San Francisco?

    The city wants to stop the rise of teen vaping by banning the sale of Juul and other e-cigarettes. It could also mean the end of a particular kind of store.

×