On the Night Bus, review: London’s own nocturnal animals – in pictures

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All photographs from On the Night Bus by Nick Turpin, published by Hoxton Mini Press

Nick Turpin’s latest collection On the Night Bus sees the acclaimed street photographer turn his camera towards the most familiar of subjects.

Taken over the course of three winters, Turpin’s photos capture the faces of London travellers through the windows of the city’s night buses. These are portraits of ordinary people in that limbo space between work and home.

The 52 photographs that make up this collection, beautifully bound in red cloth with gold-foiled lettering, show a night bus that not everyone will recognise.

The drunkenness, the rough sleeping, the anger and the upset, do not feature. Rather, there is an elegant, painterly quality to the work.

The setting, a weary place of carpeted seats and bumpy roads, here appears contemplative and calm. On occasion, passengers stare directly down the lens of the camera, but more often they are lost in thought or nodding sleep as heads rest in hands and hands cover eyes.

Bursts of primary colour – a yellow handrail, a blue seat – break up the dreary grey of the London night, and steamed windows soften features into smudges like strokes across a canvas.

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It is in fact this condensation which lends the photos their striking visual appeal. In one image, a couple press their hands against the glass, the rest of their bodies and expression lost behind fog and shadow.

But this is enough to tell their story, to draw the viewer into the seat next to them. The final photos of the book are shot through clear windows, and if there is a weak link in the collection, it is these images.

Without the blurred lines of the condensation and colour, the picture is somehow too complete, too obvious, and the meditative quality that marks the other portraits is lost.

At £16.95, On the Night Bus is not cheap, but the quality and content are a testament to the skill of Turpin and of Hoxton Mini Press, the book’s East London-based independent publishers.

Indeed, Will Self’s thoughtful introduction is worth a read in its own right.

I can imagine looking at a copy in bed at the end of a long winter’s day, the windows steaming up from the inside.

Or better yet, look at it on the night bus and glance up from it to the faces around you, faces like those in the images on the page. They are a metaphor for the city that we all experience.

The camera clicks, the commute continues. The night bus empties and refills and the day begins again.

Turpin’s camera sees the world as we do, each night, on our own long journeys home; glimpses of lives unknown seen only briefly through fogged windows.

On the Night Bus is published by Hoxton Mini Press. ISBN: 9781910566169. RRP: £16.95

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On the Night Bus. Photograph: Nick Turpin

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