As part of my interview, Devlin told me how being a bus driver is now often a thankless task. Especially in London, where the advent of Oyster Cards (prepaid travel passes) removes passenger interactions from the equation – travelers simply board and swipe their card, tapping in and out of the system. So, now that drivers no longer sell tickets, it can be easy to forget their very existence. Strange as it may seem, a driver could conceivably transport hundreds of passengers to their destinations without making eye contact with a single person.
Devlin’s experience at the Camberwell bus depot in South London, however, tells a different story. A story of the driver who, on Valentine’s Day, placed love hearts in the coin tray next to the card reader, for example. Suffice to say, this encouraged some female interaction. Devlin’s portraits reveal a side to these drivers that we never knew existed. While the image of the grumpy cabbie or bus driver is an enduring one, it is all but refuted by Devlin’s wonderfully personal and revealing series of portraits.
Driving a bus is undoubtedly a profession that deserves our respect and one vital to any city – without it, life would quickly grind to a halt. According to Devlin, we place a lot of trust in these drivers. And after hearing stories of physical and verbal abuse, the seeds for his project were sown. “As with any profession that deals directly with the public, those on the frontline all too often become victims of other people’s problems.”
Yet the message portrayed in his series of photos is one of professional pride, imbued with a warmth that shines through each of his shots. A collaboration with bus company Go Ahead London, responsible for around 365 million journeys in the capital each year, it accompanies drivers working through the night to provide rail replacement bus services on more than 100 routes. As mentioned above, most people only take note of buses when they are full or late. But the sheer scale of public transport in London is truly staggering. It is refreshing to see a project paying homage to this vital cog in the city’s infrastructure. To the people who, as Devlin states, work “face to face on a daily basis with the people of London.”
After an initial spell of wariness, the drivers opened up to Devlin’s lens. And the results are overwhelmingly uplifting. His protagonists enjoyed participating “in something that represented them,” and Devlin also remarked on the strong sense of camaraderie between workers, with many of them referring to each other by their surnames. Not to forget the driver who told Devlin that he specially “went home to collect his beret” in order to look the part in front of the camera!
This kind of warmth is reflected in Devlin’s shots. They depict a vastly varied assortment of people and personalities; proving that although these people may drive a bus and provide a service, they most certainly have personalities and smiles of their own. So, the next time you board a bus: smile. If not, at least compliment the driver on his fine choice of beret.
Text by Tim Peyton
Header image by die_bea/ photocase.com