Trainspotting

Our commission by acclaimed artist Andrew Cross presents the experience and method of trainspotting in a new way. Andrew's film explores the anticipation of train watching across a number of international locations.



Andrew Cross in the Great Hall leaning against a Class 52 diesel loco.

For over forty years, artist Andrew Cross has been watching and waiting, recording and filming.

In Parallel Tracks, Andrew takes an alternative look at trainspotting. Drawing upon personal experience, Andrew's work reflects his instinct to record both in visual and written form – as a trainspotter, music fan, photographer and artist.

A new film, Being There, explores the patience and suspense of train watching – the sense of anticipation is far from an empty experience. It is not just about trains. It is the adventure of journeying; the sights and sounds of a particular location. Whether in the Californian desert, the Swiss mountains or the rural English landscape, it's about being in the moment.

Read Andrew's blogs on capturing the images and video used in creating Parallel Tracks.

Parallel Tracks is available to view in our gallery between 26 September and 1 March 2015. Entry is free.

Andrew's photographs and film-based works explore experiences of place, time, and movement drawing upon a number of interests including landscape, railways and music. His work has been exhibited widely and received critical attention. His first book of photographs Some Trains In America was published in 2002 and notable film works include 3 hrs from here: An English Journey (2004) and The Solo: featuring the music of Carl Palmer (2010). Andrew is a lecture in photography at Southampton Solent University. www.andrewcross.co.uk.


Songs to watch trains by

Listen to Andrew's Spotify playlist (left), or collaborate on our own shared playlist (right).




Questions and answers

Andrew Cross was appointed out of a shortlist of 120 artists from all over the UK and overseas, to create a new contemporary interpretation of the theme of trainspotting. We caught up with him and asked him about creating his latest work for our Gallery.

  • Would you describe yourself as a trainspotter?

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    Absolutely, I think we are all trainspotters of a kind. Most people are afraid to recognise it. I am one of those 70s schoolboys who used to loiter at the end of station platforms and explore the back streets of Britain's industrial towns, now grown-up (sort of..!) Wherever I am in the world, even looking out of aeroplane windows, the way I observe the world is influenced by those early years trainspotting

  • Do you feel that people see trainspotting, or even liking trains as a shameful secret?

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    Like I've suggested, many people are trainspotters of one sort or another - if you listen to the way people talk about the Glastonbury line-up or, indeed, visiting art exhibitions, it's generally the ticking off of a list. Yet for some reason trainspotting has remained a metaphor for something that is not only derided but actually unsettles the comfortable majority. In the tradition of English radicalism I see trainspotting as one of the last remaining stances against the normal you can take. At a posh dinner party you can confess to all manner of things and no one will turn a hair, but if you were to say you like trains you can see a palpable disquiet among your fellow guests who may not understand your motivation. Trainspotters demonstrate the ability of individuals to act freely in pursuit of their interests simply because they are not influenced by fashion or social expectation. I think many people are envious of that.

  • Do you have any personal trainspotting memories that stand out?

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    There are almost too many to mention and many of my memories are often to do with atmosphere - station waiting rooms on dank winter days (did I only do my trainspotting during the winter?), the grime around engine sheds, industrial decline, egg sandwiches, the smell of diesel. Freezing to death at Water Orton near Birmingham in January 1972; seeing the Boots factory on my first ever visit to Nottingham also during 1972; passing through Newcastle very early one May morning in 1974 on an overnight excursion from Oxford to Aberdeen (Newcastle had just lost to Liverpool in the FA cup final); 1055 Western Advocate at the head of our train back to Oxford at Reading station on that November Saturday in 1971 and feeling very excited..! More recently? Alone in the Mojave desert watching a train heading towards me from a good fifteen miles away...

  • What inspired you to become an artist?

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    Difficult to say. Possibly to do with LP cover design and the work of someone like Roger Dean? Possibly something at the heart of my trainspotting? Despite the usual history offered, the 1970s was actually a very creative time when things felt possible and the motivation was the exploration of ideas and not celebrity.

  • What are you looking at for inspiration for this work?

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    I've recently found some very old photographs I took in my trainspotting days which I had totally forgotten about. I am interested in how images like these, and those by others - including items from the amazing National Railway Museum archives - can become triggers for memory and a way of mapping places and moments from the past. Also the way that trainspotting is an inexact science, often full of idiosyncrasy and missed opportunities - personally, I have plenty of memories but very little in accurate records. In some respects, most of us weren't that good at it, but that wasn't the point.

    I am also drawing upon my experiences of train watching in the USA from over the past twenty years. This is all about how train watching becomes an exploration of landscape and time.

  • What other artists do you admire?

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    Since art school I have always been drawn to abstract painting, particularly from the 1950s, 60s and 70s and I don't know why. Peter Kinley, a British painter from that period who was my tutor, became a great influence. I like art that is quiet and intelligent. American photographers, William Christenberry and James Welling have been influential, not least because James Welling introduced me to watching trains in America!

    Otherwise Neil Young. Great music to watch trains by and he confounds his critics and fans in equal measure.

  • What other things are you working on at the moment?

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    Last summer I visited Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia with a British Somali architect friend to document the architecture. The experience was something very new and profound for me. That work is currently on exhibition. In recent years I have also been exploring, like trainspotting, other aspects of my past including the military and agricultural landscape of Salisbury Plain where I grew up during my first ten years. That experience was very much about machines in the landscape. Also the landscape sites of 1970’s rock festivals. Out if this interest I have developed some collaborative works with musicians from that period.

  • What do you like most about York?

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    York is one of those lovely towns which is very walkable. People are friendly. Anywhere outside the M25 is generally a good place to be...

  • What's your favourite collection item at the National Railway Museum and why?

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    It would have to be the Western – a very distinctive hydraulic locomotive built in Swindon for the western region of British Railways which ran during the 1960s and 70s. In many respects it represents everything about my childhood in the rural heart of the western region.

    However, the most significant item for me is the Design Guidelines Manual for the British Rail Corporate Plan of the 1960s and 70s. This design strategy produced the iconic double arrow symbol. Here is the map to a time when the desire for a unified national railway existed still. Beautiful.


Previous exhibitions in our gallery


Background: Notebook 1967, Trevor Ermel