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Bob Mazzer's Photos Immortalise London's Underground

I talked to him about his new exhibition of photos of people drinking and pissing on the tube.

by Chris Giles
13 June 2014, 11:50am

Bob Mazzer is a self-proclaimed freak, Captain Beefheart disciple and photographer. In the 1970s and 80s Bob worked as a projectionist in a porn cinema called The Office Cinema. He commuted on the tube late at night and on his way from King's Cross to Manor House, he habitually snapped characters he met on his way, capturing the hijinks of London’s pissed up late night revellers as they made their way home, or on to another boozer. Always carrying his camera and never missing a great moment, Bob was a proto-instagrammer.

Decades later he’s decided to do something with the pictures and has organised an exhibition called "Underground". I headed down to the Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch to chat to Bob. When I got there he was wearing a Hawaiian lei he’d picked up while buying a pastry.

Bob Mazzer (Photo by the author)

VICE: Hi Bob. So how did it all begin? When did you get your first camera?
Bob Mazzer:
I got my first camera when I was 13, an Ilford Sporty, it was tin and plastic, a piece of junk really. I didn’t know that at the time. I’ve still got a couple of pictures shot from it. I gravitated towards art at school and ended up being the star pupil – he says without any false modesty.

Some of your photos feature kids messing around – jumping over closed tube barriers, that kind of thing. Were you a bit of a rascal in your youth?
I was starting to be drawn to it. Rebellion came after school, when I went to Hornsey Art School and the 60s happened.

How were the 60s for you?
There was no better time. I think the 60s happened in the 70s for me. I went to the US in 1969 and managed to miss Woodstock even though I got invited. I never considered myself to be a hippie because I thought they were a bit soft. I wasn’t a hippy, trippy, dippy, beads and bells and peace and love. I saw myself as a freak. I was into Captain Beefheart. I still am. I hitched a ride on his tour bus from London to Brighton the year that "The Spotlight Kid" came out. I found out where he was staying and went there with a camera around my neck, a little old Leica. We just got talking and he went “that’s a really friendly camera, do you wanna come on the bus?” and I said, “yeah Captain, I would”.

So what inspired you to take photos on the tube?  
I was interested in society. I loved people being themselves on the tube, not following the herd. People who took drinks on the train. There’s a shot of a woman with a beer, I liked all of that. I was immediately drawn to anyone who did that. A guy got onto the train with a guitar and an amp strapped to his back. I immediately wanted to hook up and get to know these people and photograph them. I wanted to be part of it.

Do you miss that era?  
Well, I still am living off the 60s and 70s. You know when someone’s the same as you – you get the nod. I still think of myself as 25 and that Jimi Hendrix has just died. That’s how I live.

I bet some of the photos make you feel pretty nostalgic.
The nostalgia comes from pictures other than the tube. The tube has become this big thing. I came to realise it had become a historical document. I’ve taken several hundred pictures. Last month I discovered two pictures that I’d shot 25 years ago.

You worked as a projectionist in a porn cinema, how did that job come about? Did you enjoy your time there?  
I was living as a hippie freak in Wales on a hilltop, in a semi-communal way, and then my mum died, so I came to live in London with my dad. I was looking through the Evening Standard and I saw an advert for a projectionist in Kings Cross. It was great. I had more friends come to see me at work than any other job. Even my feminist friends wanted to come see me. You know there were a lot of people who didn’t really know that side of life.

What do you like about photographing random people?
I love social interaction. You can hide behind a camera or it can be a ticket. Obviously there are times when you don’t want your camera around your neck, like if you’re gonna get beer thrown over you.

Has that happened to you?
No, but I’ve had children throw sticky drinks over me.

That sucks. Have you got a favourite picture?
I like this woman – there’s something peculiar.

And this man looks like Dracula. That was always a favourite. 

Cool. Thanks Bob!

Bob Mazzer's 'Underground' is on at the Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch until the 13th of July 2014. 

@ChrilesGiles