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The East End from the Top Deck

February 21, 2012
by the gentle author

6th May 2009 12:07pm

In spite of what a certain notorious former Prime Minister is reputed to have said about anyone over thirty who still travels by bus being a failure in life, I suggest that there is no better way to see London than from the top of a double-decker. James Pearson-Howes spent years walking up and down the Kingsland Rd taking photographs at street level in Dalston, but once he got on a bus a whole new perspective opened to him and he felt liberated to take to take a different kind of picture.“From the bus, I could see people going about their daily life without me interfering,” – as he put it with eloquent simplicity.

James’ photographs that you see here were produced as part of a collaborative project with Will Robson-Scott entitled “Top Deck,” in which both the photographers took pictures from the tops of buses as they travelled around the East End and then compared notes. “We carried our cameras whenever we went on a bus. Only on a few occasions, such as the dawn shots, did we get up early specially to go on a bus in order to take pictures,” James explained.

Many self -respecting readers, even over thirty, who travel on buses in the East End will recognise familiar scenes from the 67, 55, 242, 243, 149, 8 and 106 routes. Far below God’s eye view, yet raised significantly above those upon the pavement, the top of a bus provides an ideal platform for photography, both revealing the life of the street at close hand while offering a framed aspect too. This subtle shift of perspective serves to reveal our fellow humans more acutely than when we share their eye level, and the sense of personal exposure in these pictures is touching, as people on the street are revealed inhabiting private feelings within a public space.

Babes in arms and coffins in hearses, spring blossom and winter snowfall, daybreak and sunset, religion, commerce and politics – all of human life can be witnessed from the top of a bus. A sense of levity is encouraged by the momentum of the vehicle itself, always passing onto the next location, and offering up life as a continous fleeting series of tableaux vivants for the photographer to capture. A wedding couple in the snow, a job-seeker on midwinter’s day and a man poised to consume a cake, each of these diverse spectacles of existence presented themselves to James’ roving lens as he came by on the bus. Although the ingenious “Top Deck” project is now concluded, “I still carry a camera every time I go on a bus,” James admitted to me, “- just in case!”

16th April 2009 4:40pm

16th April 2009 4:55pm

6th May 2009 5:39pm

17th June 2010 1.13pm

1oth April 2010 2:45pm

21st April 2010 6:17pm

10th April 201o 9:57am

17th April 2010 7:12pm

17th April 2010 3:41pm

21st April 2010 10:47pm

21st April 2010 10:50am

21st April 2010 10:51pm

28th June 2010 6.07am

3rd August 2010 11:37am

8th May 2010 9:30am

8th May 2010 11:20am

13th November 201o 6:43pm

21st December 2010 12:48pm

21st December 2010 4:23pm

23rd October 2011 3.45pm

21st December 201o 1:14pm

10th December 2009 6:05pm

15th June 2011 10.12am

10th September 2010 6:52am

28th May 2010 2:03pm

James Pearson-Howes & Will Robson-Scott have produced a limited edition of five hundred copies of a handsome large format thirty-six page coloured broadsheet of their pictures, entitled TOP DECK. Copies are available here.

You may also like to take a look at James Pearson-Howes’ photographs

On the Kingsland Rd.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Amy permalink
    February 21, 2012

    When my friend and I visited London, we mainly stuck to the tube (mainly over fear of getting on the wrong bus). Over the weekend there were parts of our line closed for maintenance, so we took the bus. I am so happy there were repairs on our line, or else we wouldn’t have been able to experience the joy of sitting on the top deck of a bus. We saw more of the city and its people via that mode of transport.

  2. AnKa permalink
    February 21, 2012

    What a fantastic idea! Great photographs as well.

  3. joan permalink
    February 21, 2012

    In a conversation with other mums at the school gate the other week we were discussing the advice we give to our adolescent children about getting round London safely alone. Along with the ‘no wearing of school uniform out of school hours’, (postcode gang problems), not having ipods on display, staying alert, was ‘do not travel upstairs on the bus’. Of course what we want is for our children to be near the driver should there be trouble. But perhaps they are missing out on inspirational views! Or ideas for GCSE art coursework.


  4. Gary permalink
    February 21, 2012

    Bus photography was at its best in the days of the Routemaster where you could wind down the window and get a shot clear of the glass.

  5. CornishCockney permalink
    February 21, 2012

    Top deck, front seat passenger side, is the only way to travel in London! It became even better when top deck smoking was banned!

  6. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    February 22, 2012

    Brilliant series with a classic touch!

  7. February 22, 2012

    i absolutely agree – this is the way we like to tour a different part of london every time we go there – through the window of the top floor of a double decker

  8. isabella permalink
    August 13, 2012

    I have a love affair with buses,I am 61 and most of my days since a young child I have always travelled by bus.There are so many interesting routes and now I finally have my oap bus pass the bus rules oh happiness.I enjoyed the photos from the bus greatly.

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