It was two years ago today (22 April, 2018), that I made my second visit to Valenciennes, France.
Although it was dull, I worked with my Lumix to make these views of SNCF’s TGV high-speed sets at the Valenciennes former Nord railway station.
Not every day is bright and sunny; not every city is blessed with world-class wonders; and not every high-speed train is moving fast.
Valenciennes has a nice old station and a showcase small-city modern tram system.
Later in the day, I caught up with my Finnish friend Mauno Pajunen, and toured Belgian railway sites in the region.
Over the next few days , I made a high-speed railway journey to Bordeaux and and then through the Channel Tunnel to London—all part of my exploration that contributed to the content of my latest book; Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe.
Illustration versus documentation: Often I set out to document a scene. My process and techniques are focused toward making images that preserve the way a scene or equipment appear. Often, but not today.
Creation of an illustration may not be intended as documentation. An illustration is created to convey a message; perhaps that needed for advertising, art, or publicity.
While photographing in Bordeaux, I found that the juxtaposition of the modern trams against both modern and historic architectural backdrops looked remarkably like artist’s/architect’s impressional drawings.
So, as an exercise in illustration, I’ve intentionally manipulated the camera RAW files to make them appear more like the artist’s impressional drawings, such as those often displayed as visions of the future.
Specifically, I altered the contrast and de-saturated the color palate to mimic a water-color tinted image. I did not destroy the original files, and so I have the benefit of documentation and illustration with the same photos.
Have I done anything fundamentally different here than with images created (augmented) by the manipulation of digital files to produce super-saturated colors, plus intensely contrast adjusted effects that result in dream-like sky-scapes?
Is a posed railway publicity photo that was heavily re-touched by air-brushing or similar alteration to be considered documentation?
In a later post, I’ll explore Bordeaux’s tram network in fully saturated color.
Société National de Chemin de Fer’s Trains à Grande Vitesse is 35 years old.
Last month (April 2016) I made a series of trips across France on SNCF’s TGV, a means of flying by rail.
And, yes the speed is impressive: it makes the Acela Express seem like it’s coasting.
Here are just a sampling of my Lumix LX7 images from and of SNCF’s TGV and its stations.
I wrote about the TGV in my book Bullet Trains published by MBI in 2001.
Here’s an excerpt of the text on TGV:
In conjunction with the construction of the new high speed railway called the Lignes à Grande Vitesse (LGV), SNCF developed of the Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV), an entirely new high speed train. When discussing the French system the LGV refers to the new high speed infrastructure, including the tracks, while TGV refers to the high speed railway technology, including the trains themselves.
An invisible political boundary (the dashed line on a map) can prove a greater obstacle than a towering mountain range when it comes to impeding railway operations.
In mid-April, my Irish friends and I explored the Gotthard Pass, where massive investment will soon make the old line over the mountain redundant as the new 35.5 mile Basistunnel beneath the Alps will divert most of the through traffic.
A week later I was exploring the border area between northern France and Belgian Wallonia with Mauno Pajunen.
This is in an area of relatively dense population that was once the center of a thriving coal mining community. Quiévrain, Belgium is a town located an hour or so from Brussels and is relatively near to large French cities of Lille and Paris.
Generally speaking SNCB (Belgian National Railways) provides an excellent service across Belgium, with most stations seeing at least an hourly passenger service and many lines operating with an even greater frequency.
At one time a through railway line connected Belgian cities of Brussels and Mons with the French city of Valenciennes via Quiévrain . Today, SNCB continues to operate a regular interval passenger service from Brussels to Mons with some trains continuing south to Saint Ghislain and Quiévrain.
But Quiévrain is the end of the line and the state of the station area is a sad reflection of better times now long gone.
Evidence of the old line remains and the tracks are still in place (although no longer connected).
The town is divided between Belgium and France, with the French town being called Quiéverchain. Differences in the price of tabacco and alcohol between the two countries has led to a thriving business on the Belgian side of the border.
It had been many years since you could take a train directly from Mons to Valencienes.
In theory, you can ride from Brussels to Valenciennes via a change of trains at Lille, but this is the long way around and impractical for regular travelers.
Elsewhere in Europe cross-border services have flourished, yet the end of track at Quiévrain clearly demonstrates how borders create barriers between population centers that need not exist.
Soon you will be able to travel faster than ever before from Zurich to Milan, but not by rail from Mons to Valenciennes!
Last October (2015), I visited Valenciennes in northern France. I stopped by again a few weeks ago during my April 2016 wanderings in France and Belgium.
In these views I focused on the old Chemin de fer du Nord Station (SNCF’s Gare de Valencienes) and the surrounding environment.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1, I made images that feature the old station as both subject and background. Notice how selective focus and use of light shifts the central interest from the old building to the tram.
Outback of the station, there are, of course, SNCF trains and an impressive array of trackage that make interesting subjects in their own right.
Together, the building, trams, SNCF trains and trackage make for a scene, but one not possible to adequately represent in one image. Thus this myriad collection of images. This is a work in progress.
Tracking the Light posts every day! (Have you noticed?)
It was a pleasantly warm Spring day when I set out with Lumix LX7 in hand to make a few photos of the Strasbourg trams.
Strasbourg was among the first French cities to re-adopt the electric tram, and in 1994 introduced an elegant modern tram system using a pioneer type of low-floor car (the first batch were built by ABB) called the Eurotram.
I’ve been meaning to visit Strasbourg for a long time, but only recently managed to finally get there.
On 21 April 2016, I had my First Class France Rail Pass Flexi validated at Basel, Switzerland.
My goal was by the first evening to reach Valenciennes (a city in northern France near the Belgian border) using only regional trains, rather than the TGV (plenty of opportunity for high speed travel later in my trip).
I found the challenge as in making local connections since these days SNCF focuses long-distance passengers onto high-speed routes. All very well, unless you want to experience secondary lines and ride trains off-the well-beaten path.
Thanks to Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe who helped with my planning, I traveled on a series of TER trains.
After four train-changes reached my destination 15 hours after I boarded the first train on the French side of Basel’s main station.
October 1, 2015 was a beautifully clear autumn day in northern France. Following my talk to the European Railway Agency, my host Mauno Pajunen gave me a guided tour of the Gare de Valenciennes.
Historically this region had been rich with coal, and this made for a busy railway. Today, the coal business is all but extinct, and SNCF appeared to be largely focused on passengers, although we saw a unit grain train, and a Vossloh diesel shunting the goods yard.
The station was built in 1906 by Chemin de fer du Nord (the northern railway of France) and has a handsome period exterior. Inside the station has been stripped of much of its traditional décor.
I was pleased to find one of the original TGV PSE high-speed sets outside. These trains defined France’s innovative high-speed rail in the early 1980s, but the design is now 35 years old, and the train itself was exhibiting the signs of heavy use.
In addition to these digital photos, I also exposed several 35mm colour slides. Although, I’ve visited France on various occasions, I have comparatively few images of SNCF.