Station to station
China has a lot of railway tracks. It would, it’s a vast country. And a man who has spent a great deal of his life on them is Wang Fuchun. Over the course of 40 years, and an estimated 200,000 photographs, the celebrated artist has captured the candid moments of his fellow passengers on every railway line in China. He’s a lifelong enthusiast of this most democratic mode of transport, and actually discovered his talent for photography on the railways after being accepted into the Suihua Railway’s Train Driver Training School back in 1963, when he was just 20 years old.
But his love of the railways goes back even further than his love of photography. ‘Our house was near the rail line. I watched trains go by every day and listened to the noises they made. We were pretty poor back then. During the harvest season, I’d hop on trains and go to the fields to collect grains that had not been harvested. My love for trains has continued since then. As soon as I get on one, I feel at home.’
Wang’s artistic talents won him work as a graphic designer for the railways bureau and in 1977 he was tasked with photographing trains on behalf of his work unit. But it wasn’t just the trains that interested him, it was the rich panoply of human life that rode them.This exhibition not only immerses you in moments from other people’s lives, but also documents a profound change in China’s history. Early images showing crowded passenger trains used by rural workers to commute long distances to big cities are contrasted against later shots demonstrating the growth and pace of technological and social change.
Weng has been feted for collections such as ‘The People of Northeast China’ and ‘Northeast Tiger’, especially in his home country, but it is his train pictures that have proved his most enduring works, opening him up to a wider audience both at home and internationally.One Billion Journeys, until 17 March, Locomotion, Shildon, Country Durham, free. locomotion.org.uk