Michael Strevens

Michael Strevens

How did you get started in photography?

I've enjoyed taking photos since I was a teenager, but it was never something I took very seriously. The cameras I owned were basic and I would only use them when on holiday or for occasions with family and friends. 

What role has your iPhone and Instagram played in it?

Photography became a big part of my life quite recently. I bought my first iPhone inJanuary 2012 and discovered Instagram shortly afterwards.

I used to feel self-conscious even holding a normal camera, but with the iPhone, I was completely uninhibited. I could move around taking photos almost unnoticed. I found this anonymity very liberating and was soon dedicating most of my spare time to photography. 

I quickly realized that the editing process was as enjoyable as taking the photos themselves. I found out which apps worked well and how to use them to the best effect. At about the same time, I began an evening class in film studies, which forced me to really think about composition and the image in general. The whole thing gave me a creative and social outlet which I had never experienced before. 

Instagram plays an important role in motivating me and also as a constant flow of inspiration. After some clumsy early efforts, I eventually developed my own style and learned from others. I managed to build a following and my style evolved with practice and a lot of experimenting. I had a big break at the end of that year when I won a national photography award for one of my images of a Tube station. This led to me getting my photos published in the UK and further afield in Germany and Italy.

How has London influenced your perspective? 

I was born in London and have lived here all my life, so it is not just where I live; it is a huge part of who I am. So much of my experience and memory is bound up here and I find it hard to imagine being anywhere else. 

I would love to see more of the world, but I am lucky that so much of the world is in London. To prove this, I did an experiment last year I called ‘Around the World in 80 Restaurants’ and walked all over the city on one weekend photographing restaurants serving the cuisine of 80 different countries. Almost every culture on the planet is represented here, yet somehow London never loses its own unique identity. I would like to think that is has influenced me in a number of positive ways, not least to be open-minded, curious and tolerant. 

Like any big metropolis, it has its share of social problems and tensions, but on the whole, people manage to live together peacefully. My biggest fear is that Londoners are being squeezed out of their own city because it is becoming too expensive to live in.

I relate to how London has influenced your perspective because I feel the same way about NYC. Both cities are such cultural centers and opens your mind from the start of your life to so much. We’re lucky. 

Completely agree. I think that New York and London are so similar I consider them to be almost like twin cities. I've  been to NYC twice and both trips were unforgettable. 

Where are your favorite places to go in London? 

The north London borough of Islington is a special place for me. My father and grandparents grew up there and it has been my home for the last decade.  It has great public spaces, a good blend of people from different backgrounds and plenty of bars, shops and restaurants. Most importantly, it is also home to Arsenal Football Club! 

Before living in Islington, I lived in the borough of Harrow in the north-west suburbs. Not the most exciting part of town but a decent place to grow up. 

The Shoreditch area of east London can be a bit too ‘edgy’ and pretentious for its own good, but I enjoy it in small doses. It comes alive at the weekend when the markets at Spitalfields and Columbia Road are open. 

The City of London has a number of stunning buildings, both modern and old. It is very much a Monday to Friday place, so when all the workers have gone home for the weekend, the “Square Mile” is a photographer’s dream. 

I also love the stretch of the River Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. It contains some of the city’s most iconic architecture and Borough Market (a must-visit if you are a food-lover).

What are you inspired by? 

Much of my photography is based on perspective. I am always looking for interesting angles in the urban environment. Geometry, symmetry, vanishing points and leading lines feature heavily in my work - as do handrails! I also have a more experimental side and enjoy putting a new spin familiar buildings and places. 

I also love capturing normally busy spaces completely empty. It has become quite a tired trope on Instagram by now, but a couple of years ago it was very exciting to photograph an empty tube tunnel or a deserted street.

What made you start your Tube 270 project? How did it feel to go through it? What were the biggest challenges and rewards? 

Last summer, my wife Amanda was expecting our baby daughter and I realized that the time I could dedicate to photography would be limited for a while

after she was born. I wanted to get my teeth into something big, partly to distract me from the nerves and anticipation I was feeling about becoming a Dad. 

The London Underground was the obvious choice for a photo project as I had already taken hundreds of photos of it and knew the system and most of its hidden corners very well. 

The biggest challenge was trying to make an interesting image out of the less photogenic stations. Under half of them are actually underground and those that just contain a ticket office and a platform were quite difficult. For three months, I was getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday and traveling to far-flung corners of London and sometimes the rewards weren’t that great. 

The greatest satisfaction was when I got to the last 30 or 40 stations and I knew I would be able to finish it on time. As I counted down, I began

to feel a real sense of momentum and was driven on by the support I received from friends on Instagram. I am proud of what I achieved as I don’t think anything similar has been attempted before or since. My only regrets are that I had to rush it and that I didn’t always achieve the consistency and quality I had hoped for with the images. 

The stop that surprised me the most was Gants Hill on the Central Line:  It is a nondescript east London suburb that has the most incredible station. It was designed by an architect called Charles Holden. He designed many other tube stations and he based this one on the Moscow Metro that he was also working on at the time. You see it all over Instagram now. Other stations that surprised me were on the eastern end of the District Line, such as Dagenham Heathway and Elm Park. My expectations were low so I was pleasantly surprised with the perspectives (and handrails!) I found there.

After already taking on such an ambitious project, what then prompted you to start the London 33 project? How has it been so far and what are your goals for it? 

I got the itch to start a new project as our lives began to settle into a more normalpattern after our daughter Mia was born, taking the idea that multiple “Londons” exist as my starting point. I thought that exploring London borough by borough would be an ideal framework to show sides of the city that are unfamiliar

to many people. I got off to a good start and the project received a positive response when I launched it on Instagram in the summer. Unfortunately, I have had to put it on hold indefinitely as my father was diagnosed with a serious illness and the demands of work and family have curtailed my progress. I will leave the door open to pick it up again one day, as it could well develop into something exciting. 

In the meantime, I try to be active on Instagram when time

permits. I've had fun experimenting with new apps and editing techniques and more importantly, enjoying the daily contact with the many people I have got to know from across the world.

Interview by Jack Sommer

Kevin De Los Santos