Could this photograph from 1937 be the best ever composition taken on London’s tube? It’s certainly very unusual. The photographer, E.O.Hoppe, a German who settled in London, was noted for many iconic images of the time.
Hoppe’s 1937 photo – British Museum station subway
What is Hoppe’s photograph telling us? Is the man uncertain of things? Sees the wording, tries to work out what is ‘best?’ Is he heading in the wrong direction – of life – or whatever beguiles him?
The wording on the advert reads:
The Times Furnishing Co Ltd
£1 a month buys £10
(unreadable) ….Clapham Road, Brixton, Croydon
Is the entire wording relevant? The man with the bowler hat is clearly looking at just one word in the advert – BEST.
The light issuing from the subway passage to the right indicates perhaps that our subject should be thinking about heading that way for a better direction in life. He is all alone, only he can make a decision based upon what he sees. His existential dilemma is quite apparent.
The patterned surface on the floor of the subway is actually dust from the trains & tunnels. Footfalls have created the seemingly random patterns.
What brought Hoppe to photograph at this location? The station was closed four years previously. Perhaps he had walked through here oft times and remembered the location?
The picture couldn’t have been taken without the aid of underground staff. Not unless Hoppe and subject were both an early kind of urban guerrilla! Someone from the LPTB had to give Hoppe and his unknown subject access from New Oxford Street down to the station itself. Or they arrived by train, which was then held in the station sidings whilst Hoppe’s photo-shoot took place.
Arts curator Phillip Prodger says Hoppé was interested in the nature of success and failure – the psychology of his subjects – often photographed in intense and startlingly modern tight-cropped close up, with no background detail. This would explain the rationale behind Hoppe’s 1937 image.
The Hoppe advert today – crop from image on the British Museum feature seen at the Guerrilla Exploring site. The advert frame was painted in what seems a red/gold – with black lettering.
British Museum station was considered superfluous to requirements as the more useful interchange stations at Holborn Kingsway and Tottenham Court Road stations were a short walk away.
The old station building before it was demolished – on Flickr.
The Guardian on Hoppe.