“In the present, the combination of a nostalgic past and anxious future, leads us on a vague and indefinable search to collectively be somehow, correctly on track.”
There was a time when travelling by train was a privilege of the rich. Beautifully decorated wooden wagons dragged by impressive steam locomotives were a proud sign of progress in a world in motion; rapidly growing, fueled by the Industrial Revolution.
In the 19th century the steel horses were not only the backbone of an expanding economy, but also a popular way of transportation; en vogue with the aristocracy. With all commodities at their disposal, the wealthy upper class enjoyed luxury trips through some of the most spectacular landscapes and to the most exotic place.
The legendary Orient Express immediately springs to mind, connecting Europe with the Far East.
Today, little of that glory seems to remain. Trains are not what they used to be anymore. That’s the story Jarret Schecter is telling in his recent book “World Off Track” (2013) published by Trolley Books. “Looking at a train traversing the 19th century landscape must have been an unprecedented and quintessential image of both promise and progress in a newly emerging, modern industrial world”, writes the author in the introduction.
Looking out of a train window travelling by train through South Africa, one sees the primitive sheds of giant townships. In Belgium graffiti smeared walls at a railway station ruin the view. Trains once were symbols for wealth and growth. Nowadays they show us the harshness of socio-economic decline. The death of once so proud industries and towns.
“Egyptian National Railroads (ENR) is predominantly a passenger railway, with passenger traffic constituting more than 90% of the traffic volume and freight the remaining.”
“Although the palatial Neo-Baroque station was criticised for its extravagance when it was first completed in 1905, Antwerp Central Station in Belgium is today considered one of the most beautiful stations in the world.”
Schecter’s images are “an attempt at taking a pictorial pulse of the world, that in many ways is visibly and sadly off track”. After “America Off Track” and “Russia Off Track” it’s the third time that the US-photojournalist is dealing with a railway related subject. It’s a journey around the world with nostalgic notions. Schecter spent more than eight years riding trains all around the world.
The images he took tell us from a world undergoing profound changes. They are vivid reminders that the world – in many areas – has taken the wrong turn. What needs to get done in order to get back on track? Schecter’s book is a good starting point to ponder that question searching for answers…
Jarret Schecter World Off Track (2013) Photographs by Jarret Schecter, published by Trolley Books.