Jess is a “girl in love with the London Underground”.
Since 2011, Jess has shared over 1,000 images of the tunnels, stairs and escalators of the London Underground train network via her Instagram account @missunderground.
Jess created @missunderground after she noticed that photos of the Underground were getting more likes than the rest of her feed.
The account grew in popularity after it appeared on Instagram’s blog.
In the past nine years, @missunderground has grown to over 50,000 followers.
Credits & Thanks
Jess Macdonald (Miss Underground)
Featured image via Miss Underground (Twitter)
Some of the music in this episode was provided by Tim & Dave of Umbra
Additional music: ‘Heliotrope’ – Blue Dot Sessions via Free Music Archive
The logo was provided by Greta Larkins
J: You can see that the different sizes of escalator, the different angles. Some have steps in the middle. Some have you know lights on the top which make them feel like spaceships and some are metal and some are tiled. So the differences between them are incredible.
J: But you can just take a few seconds to appreciate the spaces and the fact that you know most people are running up and down them and don’t care. But some people occasionally just look around and say “wow this is awesome”.
L: You’re listening to People Movers: a podcast highlighting the impact of escalators on everyday life. This episode is about the Instagram account Miss Underground.
L: Miss Underground is “a girl in love with the London Underground.”
L: Her name is Jess Macdonald and she takes photos of the stairs, tunnels and escalators of the London Underground train network.
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L: Jess first became interested in escalators in 2011 when she was living in Camden, in northwest London.
J: I found I was taking pictures of my everyday life but the pictures of the Underground were getting more attention and getting more likes. So I created Miss Underground and she’s sort of like my alter ego, like a superhero version of myself in a weird way.
J: And it’s just my my weird hobby taking pictures of the underground when it’s empty.
J: I don’t do it for any monetary gain. I’ve been lucky enough to be in a couple of books and I’ve been lucky to go to a few European cities to capture their underground but generally speaking it’s just my little hobby
L: In the past ten years, Miss Underground has grown to over 50,000 followers on Instagram.
L: She’s been featured in a book, like she said, it’s called “Read This If You Want To Be Instagram Famous” and she’s been written about in The Guardian and in Time Out. But how do you find an audience for an account like hers?
J: I was really, really lucky to be featured on Instagram’s blog. So I was doing really well with the feed and I’d got up to about eight or nine thousand followers and then Instagram emailed me and asked me a few questions and said “Would you mind doing…Can we do a piece?” and they used to do blog pieces quite a lot, sort of more features and yeah I went from about 9,000 to twenty thousand in one day which was pretty incredible.
J: And then it’s just slowly been ticking along. I’m very, very proud of my followers and I think they’re all as crazy as me. So it’s good.
L: There’s something really satisfying about the simplicity of the Miss Underground feed. Because Jess only posts photos of escalators, tunnels and stairs, you start to notice what they all have in common. They all have the same fluorescent lightning, low ceilings and the kind of grunge that accumulates in train stations over time. But by putting photos of the same three things side-by-side, you’re able to appreciate the small differences in between each one.
L: I asked Jess what she looks for when she’s taking a photo.
J: Yeah I look for details like handrails and the lights. All of the London Underground stations are different. So the light features are different, the colors of the tiles are different, the handrails, some are wood, some are metal. So with my tunnels and escalators I’m looking at angles, I’ll look at where the corners will hit, where the lines of the escalator will hit the corner of my photo or where the tiles end.
J: Because I only use my iPhone so I’m looking through the screen at what I want the photo to look like at the end. So yeah just looking for the little details that make those images pop. But just by me being slightly shorter I think I get quite interesting view, sometimes I duck down a bit lower to get a really nice angle up escalators and things.
L: There are 270 stations within the London Underground and Jess said she’s been to almost all of them.
L: I asked her if she ever goes out of her way to take photos of specific escalators, kind of like an escalator bucket list.
J: Oh yes. Well I mean obviously before I got married and moved to the countryside I used to live near Suffolk in zone one and I would just get up early on a Saturday morning and go to the tube and one morning I got up ridiculously early and the tube wasn’t even open so I walked to Piccadilly Circus and they hadn’t even opened the tube. It was a beautiful sunny morning. It was lovely. And it’s a good couple of miles or a mile and a bit. And they literally were opening the gates to go down the station and people coming out of nightclubs were walking down the escalator and I just got this most beautiful shot of Piccadilly Circus and the escalators and they are normally so busy with people running to the shops and going home but it’s just I capture something which is really special. So I’ve done that occasion and got up really super early or really late at night. I got kicked out of a few stations before, but it’s worth it.
L: Like Jess, I also spend a lot of time around escalators. Sometimes I’ll be crouched down low recording the sound of them and sometimes I’ll be taking photos of them like Jess. Whenever I do this I always feel a little self-conscious when I try to imagine what people think I’m doing. Sometimes I want to tell the people looking at me “I make a podcast about escalators I’m not a weirdo!” But then if I yelled that at strangers they probably would think I was a weirdo.. I wondered if anyone ever asks Jess what she’s doing when she’s standing and waiting at the bottom of an escalator.
J: I’m usually the one standing at the bottom of an escalator just waiting for it to be empty and the longest I’ve waited is about 40 minutes down the bottom of an escalator just waiting and waiting and waiting. I sometimes get people come up and see me and I’ve been caught by a few photographers who’ve seen me in the Underground before but generally speaking it’s just me walking around the Underground taking pictures on my own.
L: Okay so picture this. It’s a Friday afternoon, you’re at work, and your colleague asks: “what are you up to over the weekend?” and you say “oh I’m just heading out to a train station, waiting around for half an hour for all the people to get out of the way and taking photos of escalators, tunnels and stairs. How about you?” When you say it like that, it sounds a little bit strange. Obviously not strange to me or to Jess, but for most people, they probably think it’s a bit weird.
L: So in that case I wondered what her friends and family think of her hobby?
J: I think they’ve got used to it over the years. I think they thought it was a bit bizarre. I mean I’ll still go to events and people go “Oh you’re Miss Underground” because I don’t really I don’t really show my identity much at all. And I don’t really talk about myself much. Occasionally I have but not very often. So they all think it’s a bit bizarre. But they’re all very I guess proud of what I do. I mean you know like I said I don’t do this for any other reason other than my little strange hobby that I love.
L: I feel like Jess and I understand each other’s strange little hobbies in a way that many people in our real lives perhaps don’t.
L: We’re just two people who love escalators and we want to share that love with others.
J: I love the fact that you are very specific about your podcast because you know not many people understand my obsession and I think you know you have a similar kind of love for something that people see as part of their daily lives where actually I think you and I probably appreciate the architecture, the design, the thought that’s gone into these spaces.
J: I mean I’m very obsessed with obviously the visual element of it but we couldn’t get around our cities without these wonderful things and they are very beautiful as well when you stop and look at an escalator, it’s a very beautiful thing.
L: You can follow People Movers on Instagram: we’re at people movers podcast. Full transcripts and more information can be found at peoplemovers podcast dot com. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your podcast app of choice.
L: Some of the music in this episode was provided by Tim and Dave of Umbra. You can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/umbraduo.
L: You can find and follow Jess on Instagram, she’s at miss underground.
L: Until next time, start paying more attention to the escalators around you. You might be surprised by what you discover.
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