Night Buses and Contemplation After-Hours in This New Photo Book

Capturing people in pensive moments, photographer Nick Turpin’s new book On the Night Bus is an illustration of London’s night life after closing time, final songs, and last orders are all finished with. The fogged-up, grafittied windows of London’s iconic night buses work as a distorting skein that imposes itself between the viewer and the subject, and the result is a gently glowing series of images whose tone could be best described as Impressionism, meets pathetic fallacy, meets a muted Nicolas Winding Refn colour-palette.


“Over the years I have photographed hard news, fashion, and high-end advertising campaigns, but still the hardest thing I have ever tried to do is to make something remarkable out of nothing on the street with one small camera and a standard lens. It is the hardest challenge in photography”, Nick tells us, and the challenge is one he has risen to with admirable success; his portraiture is a thoughtful chronicle of the everyday moments of unguarded contemplation in the transitional space between destinations.


Whilst most of the people are not aware that they are being photographed, the occasional subject half-turns to the camera, addressing for a moment the viewer on the other side of the frame. We spoke with Nick to hear his thoughts on the viewer, the voyeur, and the dynamics of interaction on the night bus.

The Plus: How did the idea for the project come to you?
Nick Turpin:
I was sitting at a streetside cafe in the winter and saw the buses coming past full of commuters, and I just thought how beautiful something so everyday and mundane can be. It’s often hard to work as a street photographer in the winter months because of the poor light and weather, so I was very happy to find myself a winter project to engage with.

‘On the Night Bus’ by Nick Turpin. 104pp, hardcover with cloth-covered back case and spine, gold foiled, 160 x 228mm

TP: Your photographs are intimate and bring to mind impressionist paintings. What brought about this style?
I started making the pictures with parts of the bus in them, bits of window frame etc., but quickly realised that they were much more powerful with the context removed: they looked more like paintings when recognisable elements were excluded.
I worked on evenings when the temperature was in low single figures or it had been raining during the day which meant that a full bus of hot commuters would quickly steam up the windows with beautiful results. This was added to by the artificial light sources, and the occasional brake light of another passing bus or the glow of an lcd screen.


TP: What inspired you to get into photography – and in particular street photography?
I studied art originally, and started using photographs as references and starting points for paintings. I quickly became fascinated with what the camera could do, its amazing trick in freezing a moment for us to keep and inspect over time.


TP: The relationship you establish with your subjects is more one-sided than normal street photography; did you feel there to be a difference when you were shooting?
When I shoot on the streets in a traditional way I rarely interact with my subjects, mostly they don’t even know they have been photographed. I like this non-interventionist approach because I am interested in observing rather than directing. When I direct, I get what I’m expecting, but when I observe I learn something new about the world. I think the fact that I am standing out in the dark shooting into the lit interior of the bus did make me hidden and mostly invisible to the passengers; that coupled with the use of a long lens did allow for a particularly intimate portrait. My subjects were just 4 meters in front of me but unaware of my presence, which would be impossible under normal circumstances.


TP: Has shooting this series changed the way you travel on public transport?
I think having sat myself on both sides of the glass I have an appreciation and awareness of the other realm. I tend to look out more than I used to, especially in the dark. I have even pulled up at the same spot from which I shot the project and looked out into the darkness at the spot on the pavement where I stood to take the pictures. I also take more interest in my fellow passenger now, always looking for the one person on each bus that I might have chosen to shoot.

TP: What’s next?
I am interested in the subject of life in huge modern cities, and I am increasingly interested in working in the area where documentary photography meets art. Having tackled commuting, I am now working on two other projects that address the omnipresence of advertising and the ubiquitous smart phone, all to be shot where I am most at home…the street.


On the Night Bus is available now from Hoxton Mini Press.