What do you do when you travel by train? Do you gaze often through the window wondering what's out there or do you sit with a book and enjoy your favourite author to unwind? Perhaps you prefer the digital world although the internet connection might not be as stable as expected or, at times, nonexistent. I was doing all of the above but recently I got back to the roots.
I love travelling by train. This love started with my first train ride and was all about everything that was outside the window. It was like I sat in a cinema and someone played a movie. The images in the window kept changing an did not ever repeat. In the images I saw people, perspectives, buildings and, at times, a range of emotions. These were scenes with lovers, friends, families. They presented themselves only for few seconds and kept being shorter and shorter with the years to come due to trains being faster and people (including myself) in more of a hurry.
Recently, I could relieve these memories and emotions with the project I started and called "Through an express window". It was initiated with a train journey from Lviv to Kyiv while visiting Ukraine. The goal was to show the viewer fleeting moments from looking through the window. I wanted to share with you some of the discoveries I made till date (the project is an ongoing one). For the time being, I have undergone two train journeys during which I photographed the outside world solely for this project. I am also adding three photographs from my Tran-Siberian train journey as I did some shots in similar matter back in 2014 yet not having the same reflections as in Ukraine at the time.
I place my head as closely to the window to get the extra edge and look ahead to gain those valuable milliseconds. In open fields the task is the easiest as the time-frame to operate is longer. When the train is tucked in between a forrest or going through a small city - it's then when it's a challenge. As I continue to do this I learn to be humble as I won't get every shot and at times I will hesitate too much and the perfect moment is inadvertently gone.
When you look out of the window, at times, you may feel like in Sims the game. The train tracks often are laid above the ground level and you see from a certain height what cannot be seen from down below. You start noticing events such as children playing in an old factory without their parents knowing it or two men walking alone in a filed. I tend to wonder: what's their story? where are they heading? what they might be thinking of? These questions lead nowhere but foster my curiosity even further and then it's when the creativity happens and I come up with new project ideas.
In this particular project I do the work usually in a sparsely populated carriages. This is to have an option to sit where the windows are and switch sides when the one I'm operating at does not give me enough views. It also helps to choose a seat where the windows are the longest to give that extra bit of time for making a decision. A bonus here would be that people don't look at you strangely. But who cares right?
Back in the days, a typical train journey was about the exteriors. People travelled less and could afford less. Another reason was that we were not that involved with the electronic devices as nowadays and the journeys lasted much longer. This has changed with the advent of TGV (French: Train à Grande Vitesse, "high-speed train") and the Western world modernising it's networks. I am wondering what will the future hold when Elon Musk introduces a working Hyperloop.. Anyway, today most of us are tied to computers, tablets or cell phones. This shift has left us less conscious of the journey itself.
Fortunately, there are still some places left in the world where one can experience true old-school train travel. One of them is the famous Trans-Siberian train journey, which I had opportunity to take, from which you can see few shots here. If you're a Vine user you can see some resemblance to trying to take shots from an express train. Maybe apart from the "loop" feature.
One of the things I love about this project is that the people and situations I try to capture are genuine. You see people with their natural expressions, not posing, not trying to look good. Very rarely somebody notices you as the train is going very fast. It's like the ultimate hiding place that constantly provides you with new opportunities and new stories to discover while you sit.
This simplicity has it's pros and cons which, in part, I mentioned above. I'll be continuing this project and you will be able to see more on my portfolio site at blog.marcinkonkel.com At the same place you can see full galleries from my two trips on Lviv - Kyiv express (black and white) in Ukraine and Jelenia Góra - Warsaw express (colour) in Poland. You can also view a dedicated gallery for the Moscow (Russia) - Ulanbator (Mongolia) - Beijing (China) gallery "Transsib - life on rails" as well as read essays from our travels under #transsib2014 hashtag.
I encourage you, the viewer, to revisit your memories from those train journeys that were slower and more mindful. To my mind, I actually find it to be the core of the journey. It has a certain banality in it but also rewards you with experiences and emotions. Experience of being aware, curious and mindful, in the moment and noticing those situations, landscapes and personalities. Emotions of slowing down and peace. For me all of the above is symbolised by a child glued to the window, shouting to its parents every now and then when someone or something caught its attention. As we age, less things are that interesting to us. Yet, that does not need to mean that you can't enjoy it as in the old days.
Leave that tension of constantly browsing the internet or working. Stop. And once in a while.. just look through the window to what the world has to offer.