Monday, August 23, 2010

Photo Shoot: Munich Ubahn

Whilst pulling the material together for Exercise 16 in the Max-Weber Platz Ubahn station I thought it would be interesting to explore some of the other stations on the network and see if I could produce some striking pictures. I always been drawn to interesting geometrical shapes and underground railway stations are a good source of structure.  In reading a little about Munich architecture I have also come to realize that some of the stations are also remarkably colourful.  I set off to photograph stations in the area around the Olympia Einkaufzentrum (OEZ), a large shopping center to the North of Munich near the site of the 1972 Olympics.  The OEZ is the end point for the U1 and U3 lines, both of which are quite recently built and so the subject of new ideas in station design.

I wanted to visit 6 different stations and so planned to travel light using a single wide angle zoom lens with IS, my 24-105mm f/4.  Image Stabilization would be essential as I would be shooting in found light in underground stations, requiring fairly long exposures even at ISO800/1600.  I could have used a tripod, however, this is cumbersome and can be viewed as an obstruction in a busy and narrow station environment.  Also by going to the long exposures at ISO 100 that a tripod would permit, I would lose the presence of the passengers on the platforms.

This is intended as a brief photo essay and is part of my preparation work leading up to Assignment 3 on this course, one subject of which will be a busy underground station:

I started my trip at the Hauptbahnhof station, a grim place typical of many of the older stations in the Ubahn network:

However, this station was not my goal, I was really looking for the new modern stations, the first of which is Gern, with it's strange square overhead lighting:

At the end of the station, next to the lift, it was possible to look down the tunnels and see on coming trains, coming through a strange blue light

My next stop was the Westfriedhof station, which upon entry looks quite conventional, in a steel/concrete motif much loved in Germany.  I tried to capture the different levels and intersecting stairways in this image.  The lady on the escalator provides human scale to an otherwise very austere picture

However, as you walk along the platform the station reveals a fabulous lighting scheme.  The lights for the platform are contained inside hemispheres which are brightly painted on the inside.  Although the lights are normal white flourescent strips the predominant experience is glow of these hanging circles.

and the reflection of the light from the exposed stone of the tunnel wall

The next station, Georg-Brauchle-Ring, takes a completely different approach with normal overhead lighting, but brightly coloured walls, consisting of large painted panels interspersed with art/photography.

Further along the line I finally arrived at the OEZ and here was a complete contrast, from bright creative light/colour to an almost oppressive grim station platform:

Strangely, though, this gaunt styling was completely abandoned moving down into the U3 station platforms below the U1, where once again bright primary colours dominated

Heading now back into the city along the U3 I did not plan to shoot any more stations, however, I encountered two more remarkable uses of light within an enclosed space.  The first was at Oberwiesenfeld, in which natural light streamed through windows in the ceiling of the station and then reflected off a bright orange tiled wall suffusing the whole station in a warm glow:

My final stop off, Muenchener Freiheit, is at the heart of the night club district and I guess that is what inspired the lighting scheme.  Throughout the station huge square columns glowed bright blue.  On closer inspection, the designer had used the same idea as at Oberwiesenfeld, the columns were covered in highly reflective blue ceramic tiles which when brightly lit made the whole column appear to glow from within:

This was an exercise in photographic exploration, an essay on some of the newer stations on the Munich underground system.  What struck me very forcefully was the creative way in which light was used to give each station character, and thinking about how best to capture this light with my camera helped me to a better understanding of the designers goals.

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