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Bus OdysseyReview - Bus Odyssey
by Tom Wood
Distributed Art Publishers/Hatje Cantz, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
May 2nd 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 18)

Tom Wood took these photographs on his bus journeys in Liverpool, England, between 1979 and 1996.  Most were taken on double-decker buses, either of his fellow passengers, or else of scenes outside the bus.  He’s especially fond of photographing people on other buses.  Some are black and white, and others are in color.  Liverpool is not a wealthy city, and these pictures show working class or middle class people going about their everyday business.  This is not the England of Merchant-Ivory movies or Brideshead Revisited, but rather it’s more closely related to The Full Monty. 

            British people won’t find much surprising in these images, since anyone used to riding the buses in major British cities will be familiar with the kinds of scenes Wood shows.  There are mostly children, teenagers, young mothers, and pensioners on the buses.  They wear their raincoats or anoraks, carry shopping bags, and talk to each other, read the newspaper or stare out of the window, sitting or standing if the bus is crowded.  Many of the pictures show people waiting at bus stops, or walking to or from the bus.  You see a lot on a bus, and get a real sense of people’s lives if you pay attention.  You see the weariness on their faces, graffiti on walls and on the backs of seats, and you hear about their plans and concerns.  You also see the streets and parks scattered with rubbish and litter, desolate housing estates and garish shop fronts.  There’s very little beauty in this book, but it’s probably a fair depiction of what Wood actually experiences on his bus trips. 

            These pictures have been selected from thousands, so each one is carefully chosen.  Careful scrutiny reveals lots of details, and this is especially true of those where the image combines reflections in a window with a more direct subject.  For example, in a rare picture taken from outside a bus, he shows people inside the bus, but you can also see Woods himself, taking the picture, reflected in the bus window. 

            One might call this work photo-sociology.  It helps to show a side of British life that rarely gets shown in movies or TV.  It might sound a little dreary,  but these images have enough variety and character to hold the reader’s interest.  One might compare Wood’s work to Martin Parr’s photographic depiction of Britain, and there’s some similarity, but Parr’s work is far more judgmental and ironic.  Wood is a sympathetic chronicler of the people of Liverpool, and this is an impressive collection of his work. 

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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