See How This Photographer Transforms Commuters Into Works of Art

woman on tube
A woman on the London underground leans on a blue pole in June 2016. Matt Crabtree

Is photography art? That’s a question with no simple answer—and one particularly pertinent to this photo series of commuters on the tube, which have been edited to look like 16th century Renaissance portraits.

The works by self-taught photographer Matt Crabtree, from Yorkshire, have drawn attention on the internet for their unusual style. Crabtree, who works in advertising, did not expect anyone to be interested in the collection of photographs on his iPhone. “It really just started off as some photos to share with my mates on Facebook, and all of a sudden, it’s taken off,” he tells Newsweek.

Man on tube An elderly man clutching his briefcase on the London underground in a photo taken by Matt Crabtree in June 2016. Matt Crabtree

The snapper’s website describes how he creates the shots: “[They are] taken on my phone, retouched on my phone, then sent from my my phone, all whilst on the underground journey.”

Telling Newsweek how the project came about, he says, “I was just bored. I remember when I was a kid my mum and dad would take me to all these museums. It must have finally rubbed off!”

Crabtree has never received professional photography training and has a limited history of art knowledge. Sitting on the Tube with his headphones in listening to music two weeks ago, the woman opposite him caught his attention.

576a74aa15000030001babd7 A woman closes her eyes on the London underground in a photo taken by Matt Crabtree in June 2016. Matt Crabtree

“The lighting was perfect. She was sat with her arms crossed and she was looking up,” he says.

Her expression and pose immediately reminded him of old Renaissance paintings. “I sent the photo to friends and they agreed it looked like something from the 16th century.”

From that journey onwards, the 44-year-old photographer kept noticing certain faces. “I took the photographs when I thought someone looked beautiful, in their own moment of introspective loveliness,” he explains. “My thoughts were often, She looks lovely, He looks proud, She looks incredibly virtuous.”

man train looking up A man gazes upwards on the London underground in a photograph taken by Matt Crabtree in June 2016. Matt Crabtree

In a world where everyone is in a rush and too interested in their iPads, Kindles and mobile phones to look up, Crabtree took the time to notice ordinary people on their daily commute.

“No one wants to look you in the eye on the Tube—Londoners don’t,” he says.

Crabtree is modest and understated. He didn’t start taking photographs to get noticed, and he didn’t have an agenda. He simply “wanted something to do” on a long journey home.

phone woman A woman in a pink top looks at her phone on the London underground in a photo taken by Matt Crabtree in June 2016. Matt Crabtree

Nevertheless, he says the unexpected attention is welcome.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if a bunch of photos taken on the Tube on a mobile phone could make it to the National Portrait Museum?”

The full collection of Crabtree’s work can be viewed on his website.