York Railway Museum Presents Wang Fuchun’s One Billion Journeys | AD

Posted on 4 min read
one billion journeys exhibition entrance on launch night

This is a sponsored post written in collaboration with National Railway Museum x One Billion Journeys.

A week ago today I was invited down to the iconic National Railway Museum in York to cover and create content surrounding an equally iconic event involving world renowned photographer Wang Fuchun. It was the UK’s first ever launch of his new and exclusive intimate portrait exhibition – One Billion Journeys: Wang Fuchun’s Chinese On The Train – and I had the honour of breathing the same self-effacing air as the man himself as he spoke about his monumental life on the rails; 4 decades in fact.

One Billion Journeys follows everyday trips across the ever changing Chinese railways and depicts the real human connection and communication that is so naturally existent in people no matter what our statistics. For forty whole years, Wang has captured unguarded moments between an abundance of passengers; family, friends, lovers, strangers casually commuting and unaware they are about to be produced into a beautiful, wholesome novella through tender, poignant and ultimately real artwork,

It’s the incredibly vivid candid snapshots that makes One Billion Journeys so special and unique. Wang has documented every human emotion, sentiment and situation you can ever think of and when exploring the black and white gallery placed with pride you can really feel this range of expressions.  The people portraits are of achromatic effect but the colour in the scene is metaphorically visible. There’s crocodile tears. There’s comfort. There’s care. There’s laughter. There’s romance. There’s hellos and there’s goodbyes. There’s boredom. There’s passive entertainment. There’s work and there’s rest. There’s culture. There’s health. There’s spirituality. The micro dramas occurring in fleeting moments and passing minutes that wouldn’t have been distinctively and viscerally remembered  if they weren’t on camera is a powerful reminder of the intersected microcosm of life.

However, that’s not where it finishes. Highlighting the universality of human experiences and immersing you into their world isn’t all One Billion Journeys portrays. The linear imagery showcases the developing change of China’s high functioning society over time and the profound period of change in China’s history. How the railway has evolved from the steam locomotives right up to business class of luxury high speed and how both the country and the people have reshaped are all recorded in Wang’s photos .

Not only does the exhibition have unvarnished beauty and authenticity permeating in close proximity, it also demonstrates the destiny of the future. Every picture is supported with a caption signifying how the nation has progressed, how the standard of living has improved and how technology has taken over. For example, early images show a mass of rural crowds perched around a TV and later ones are a contrast to the pace of both modern resources and the introduction of mobile phones.  It’s both an adventure and an education to see it in the flesh – and most of all, an honour.

A train is a big temporary family or a small floating society which condenses the diversity of life.

Before the harmonious art was unveiled to the public, Wang gave us an insight into his life as a railway photographer with a hearty interview and Q&A. As his words were translated and we got to know what he represented, I found myself contracting a great admiration for him and the genuine, impassioned dedication to his work and his family and us as people. He described what he does as his profession, his duty, and his mission; emphasising the fondness and the desire he has to click that button on every single loaded train journey when people have time to think and rest. “A train is a big temporary family or small floating society which condenses the diversity of life” Mr Wang proclaims in interpreted Mandarin as I sat enthralled in his enthusiasm and commitment.

I’ve always thought of myself as a professional thief, not because I stole possessions from people but because I stole moments out of their everyday lives through photography.

Hearing his own stories as well as visiting the ones he’s caught and created was so engrossing. He informed us of the many times he’s suffered from his art, once receiving a punch because a man with a paparazzo camera isn’t always perceived as positive.  “I’ve always thought of myself as a professional thief, not because I stole possessions from people because I stole moments out of their everyday lives through photography.” It was this statement that brought savoury flavouring into my soul. and it was seeing Mr Wang taking photos of his audience appreciating his photos that allowed me to perceive the dear joy he has in living and traversing and composing. I was mesmerised by his talent and ability to vocalise and visually encapsulate the expressive essence of what it is to be a photographer. His words, his knowledge and his experience were fascinatingly inspiring and I can only hope to be that prevailing level of skilled and structured as I pioneer my own avenues.

My blog brings me some fabulous opportunities but this is by far the most uplifting, interesting one to date. I didn’t just enjoy the event as an entirety, I really did grow a true, steadfast admiration for his art and I know anyone who follows along with my musings will fall in love just as fast as I did. Ever since learning about and seeing One Billion Journeys for myself I’ve been so much more aware of deep community on railways. Only last weekend did I fill up watching an old man crouched at the window of my carriage blowing a kiss, touching the glass and waving to his wife as his emotions got the better of him. In that moment I wished I had the authority, electronics, and characteristic eye to snap that very motion.

The exhibition is now open for the summer from 24th May right up until the 11th August and it’s all absolutely free to visit both the One Billion Journeys exhibition and see the museum itself. Situated at the National Railway Museum which is just a short walk away from York’s station, it’s a tourists dream and I couldn’t recommend it enough. You’ll honestly be mesmerised by how instantly touching and elevating it is seeing these ordinary moments turn into a delightful masterpiece.

Mr Wang, I salute you.