Tag Archives: France

French Outtakes—Part 1

Perusing my photos of France and French railways for my up-coming book on European Railway Travel, I was surprised  to find how many excellent images I had in my collection.

I’ve made about a half dozen trips through France over the years, and I’ve generally had good weather.

In reviewing my selection I’ve decided to cull these two images from consideration for the book.

This train photo is of an SNCF train but it’s not in France, and rather in Basel, Switzerland. More to the point, the lighting isn’t wonderful, and the setting is awkward.

I chose it because it’s a contemporary photo of an SNCF locomotive-hauled passenger train (which are becoming increasingly rare in France.) I have better SNCF photos than this one for the book.

Exposed on Fujichrome using a Canon EOS3.

I liked this Eiffel Tower image because it shows the scale of the structure. However, I have some really stunning views of this Parisian icon that better capture its majesty. This one gets the axe.

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Illustration in Bordeaux-Four New Images.

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.

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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.

Bordeaux_tram_DSCF6444

Bordeaux_tram_DSCF6463

Questions:

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.

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Tracking the Light Visualizes Speed: Traveling by SNCF’s TGV—a dozen new photos.

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.

TGV arriving at Brussels Midi. Today, TGV operated to a variety of countries across Europe including Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain.
TGV arriving at Brussels Midi. Today, TGV operates to a variety of countries across Europe including Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain.
Room with a view.
Room with a view.
TGV map.
TGV map.

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.

Lounge on a TGV Duplex set (a double-deck TGV train).
Lounge on a TGV Duplex set (a double-deck TGV train).
Upstairs/Downstairs at 186 mph.
Upstairs/Downstairs at 186 mph. (And no one to yap at you about moving between cars at speed, let alone descending stairs).
View from the train.
View from the train.
TGV Lyria at the Charles de Gaulle airport station.
TGV Lyria at the Charles de Gaulle airport station.
TGV pauses at Charles de Gaulle airport. Take the plane to the train! It works, just ask Pop.
TGV pauses at Charles de Gaulle airport. Take the plane to the train! It works, just ask Pop.
TGV Duplex after arrival at Bordeaux in southern France.
TGV Duplex after arrival at Bordeaux in southern France.
Typical Frist class seating on the TGV Duplex.
Typical Frist class seating on the TGV Duplex.
Lille Europe, TGV/Eurostar Station.
Lille Europe, TGV/Eurostar Station.

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The end of the line for SNCB! A Dozen photos at Quiévrain.

International borders are often bad for railways.

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.

The tree growing out of the roof of the old station is indicative the sad state of the railway here.
The tree growing out of the roof of the old station is indicative the sad state of the railway here.
Despite the poor state of the facilities, SNCB continues to provide a relatively frequent passenger service to Quiévrain. Electric trains offer an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel to Mons and Brussels where connections are available to many other cities across the country.
Despite the poor state of the facilities, SNCB continues to provide a relatively frequent passenger service to Quiévrain. Electric trains offer an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel to Mons and Brussels where connections are available to many other cities across the country.

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.

Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.

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.

This was once a handsome station.
This was once a handsome station.

 

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.

Here we are at the French-Belgian frontier which divides the town of Quiéverchain/Quiévrain. Good luck getting through the place by rail!
Here we are at the French-Belgian frontier which divides the town of Quiéverchain/Quiévrain. Good luck getting through the place by rail!
Oh dear! The connecting stink buggy has arrived.
Oh dear! The connecting stink buggy has arrived.
SNCB provides excellent signage at stations.
SNCB provides excellent signage at stations.

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.

The end of the line for SNCB! (but the tracks once continued into France.)
The end of the line for SNCB! (but the tracks once continued into France.)

SNCB_Quievrain_P1450197

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!

Only a short walk from the end of track will reveal the old line that once continued across the border. A ghost from another era.
Only a short walk from the end of track will reveal evidence of the old line that once continued across the border. A ghost from another era.
I find disused railways sad, yet fascinating. Like discovering evidence of a forgotten empire.
I find disused railways sad, yet fascinating. Like discovering evidence of a forgotten empire.

SNCF Valenciennes‑Revisited (April 2016). Six NEW photos.

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.

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Valenciences_Station_w_tram_DSCF6240

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.

SNCF_Gare_Valenciences_DSCF6278

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.

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An SNCF train approaches Gare de Valenciennes.
An SNCF train approaches Gare de Valenciennes.

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Strasbourg: 10 photos of Low Floor Trams in a Sophisticated European City

 

Strasbourg_Tram_P1440893It 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.

Any favorites from this selection?

Among my first fews of the Strasbourg tram system. Notice the rail-mounted cleaning truck in the distance.
Among my first views of the Strasbourg tram system. Notice the rail-mounted cleaning truck in the distance.

Strasbourg_Tram_P1440907

Contrast of old and new.
Contrast of old and new.

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Like with many modern tram systems, in Strasbourg you must validate your paper ticket before boarding the car. I noted teams of fare enforcement specialists intimidating non-paying passengers.
Like with many modern tram systems, in Strasbourg you must validate your paper ticket before boarding the car. I noted teams of fare enforcement specialists intimidating non-paying passengers.
Strasbourg offers many places to include the trams in attractive cityscapes such as this one.
Strasbourg offers many places to include the trams in attractive cityscapes such as this one.
A few of the cars were painted in this lime, red and white livery.
A few of the cars were painted in this lime, red and white livery.

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News Flash! Metz Station is really cool! (Seven previously unpublished photos)

Located in the north of France, Metz is an industrial city with a long history.

I’ll admit, I’d never given the place much thought until I had to change trains there in late April (2016).

Not only was the old city centre visually fascinating, but the railway station is a real gem!

That’s the great part about exploring without an agenda; you find wonderful things you really didn’t expect to see!

I made these images over the course of my brief visit using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera (fitted with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens).

Interior architecture at SNCF's Metz station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Interior architecture at SNCF’s Metz station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Not an exhibit at the British Museum in London; no, this a bit of architectural detail at the Metz station.
Not an exhibit at the British Museum in London; no, this a bit of architectural detail at the Metz station.
Metz Station exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 with Zeiss 12mm lens.
Metz Station exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 with Zeiss 12mm lens.
Main concourse of the Metz Station.
Main concourse of the Metz Station.
Exterior detail: Metz Station exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 with Zeiss 12mm lens.
Exterior detail: Metz Station exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 with Zeiss 12mm lens.
Luxembourg Railways railcar at Metz Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Luxembourg Railways railcar at Metz Station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Here's the next leg of my journey in France; a colorfully painted railcar.
Here’s the next leg of my journey in France; a colorfully painted railcar.

Take a Ride on SNCF.

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.

My first SNCF train was a loco-hauled push-pull service from Basel to Strasbourg. Exposed with my Lumix LX7.
My first SNCF train was a loco-hauled push-pull service from Basel to Strasbourg. Exposed with my Lumix LX7.
Among the benefits of SNCF's secondary trains are large windows, ample space for luggage, and no requirement for advanced reservations which allows for spontaneous travel.
Among the benefits of SNCF’s secondary trains are large windows, ample space for luggage, and no requirement for advanced reservations which allows for spontaneous travel.
I made good use of my pass, and proved a much better value than buying single tickets.
I made good use of my pass, and proved a much better value than buying single tickets.
Old school comfort. Proper 1st class railway travel. Lumix LX7 photo.
Old school comfort. Proper 1st class railway travel. Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo; focus setting on 'manual'.
Lumix LX7 photo; focus setting on ‘manual’.
A rolling panorama of the French landscape.
A rolling panorama of the French landscape.
Plenty of locomotives and trains to be viewed from the window of the train.
Plenty of locomotives and trains to be viewed from the window of the train.

SNCF_View_from_train_at_Strasbourg_P1440869

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Alstom Trams at Valenciennes, France—1 October 2015

For me it was like the LUAS transplanted. The trams at Valenciennes are variations of Alstom’s Citadis trams that have worked Dublin’s Green and Red Lines since 2004.

While, visiting Valenciennes, my host Mauno Pajunen and I went for spin on the light rail, and I made a variety of images using my Fuji X-T1 and Lumix LX7 digital cameras.

We benefitted from rich polarized autumn sun. Trams operated on a ten minute frequency on each of the two routes.

Tram_valenciences_DSCF3331 Tram_valenciences_DSCF3321 Tram_valenciences_DSCF3317 Tram_valenciences_DSCF3303 Tram_valenciences_DSCF3290

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LX7 Photo.
LX7 Photo.

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SNCF Gare de Valenciennes, France.

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.

SNCF's Gare de Valenciennes. Exposed with mu Lumix LX7, contrast adjusted globally in post processing.
SNCF’s Gare de Valenciennes. Exposed with my Lumix LX7, contrast adjusted globally in post processing.
SNCF's Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCF’s Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCF's Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCF’s Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.
An old TGV PSE set at SNCF's Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.
An old TGV PSE set at SNCF’s Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.

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.

Local SNCF railcar at Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.
Local SNCF railcar at Gare de Valenciennes. Lumix LX7 photo.
I was set my Lumix LX7 in HDR mode to reduce contrast and improve shadow detail. HDR stands for 'high dynamic range' and effectively blends three photographs exposed at different settings. These images are made in rapid succession and combined in-camera. It is useful for static scenes such as these standing SNCF diesels, but not much help for photos of moving trains.
I  set my Lumix LX7 in HDR mode to reduce contrast and improve shadow detail. HDR stands for ‘high dynamic range’ and effectively blends three photographs exposed at different settings. These images are made in rapid succession and combined in-camera. It is useful for static scenes such as these standing SNCF diesels, but not much help for photos of moving trains.
Another HDR view of the SNCF grain train. The diesels were build by Alstom and Siemens.
Another HDR view of the SNCF grain train. The diesels were built by Alstom and Siemens.

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Modern-1980s Style.

Exposed on March 31, 2015 using a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed on March 31, 2015 using a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.

This juxtaposition of a French high-speed TGV against Lego-block architecture fulfills a vision of 1980s modern style. After three decades how well does it hold up?

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Verdun

The Great War.

In August 2014, I visited the battle-sites and grave yards around Verdun in northeastern France. These were the sites of some of the most intense fighting during the Great War.

I exposed these photographs.

Argonne Battle site
Argonne Battle site
Argonne Battle site near Verdun
Argonne Battle site near Verdun
Mort Homme monument
Mort Homme monument
Mort Homme monument
Mort Homme monument
Mort Homme monument
Mort Homme monument
Trenches at Mort Homme monument
Trenches at Mort Homme monument

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Douaumont
Douaumont
Douaumont
Douaumont
Douaumont
Douaumont
Douaumont
Douaumont
Site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Narrow gauge tracks at the site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Narrow gauge tracks at the site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Narrow gauge tracks at the site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.
Narrow gauge tracks at the site of Bezonvaux village—destroyed in the war.

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