Railways have been an integral part of British life ever since the Industrial Revolution. A major project conceived and carried out in Yorkshire has used them to explore the way life and culture in this country has changed in the past 200 years.
The Railway Cultures collaboration between researchers at the University of Sheffield and the National Railway Museum in York has already inspired a two-day conference, two books and two exhibitions, with some of the work currently on display at Sheffield railway station.
It works from a simple premise – the idea of approaching the railways not just as another form of transportation but as a cultural force that has both reflected and shaped life in the UK for more than two centuries.
Day-to-day life on modern railways has been explored through a series of photographs capturing contemporary railway users taken by Sheffield-based artist Laura Page.
Page took around 15 journeys through Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Merseyside to capture the varied experiences of rail passengers.
She worked with Dr Komarine Romdenh Romluc from the university’s Department of Philosophy on her element of the project.
“I spent a lot of time travelling around on random trains often chatting with people and telling them what I was doing until they forgot I was there so I could photograph candidly, capturing a natural scene.
“Some people made their train journeys an enjoyable part of their trip, sharing a drink on the way to a night out or having a chat with friends. Others tried to just continue getting on with the jobs they had to do, working on their laptops or eating their lunch while some tried to block the journey out having a sleep before reaching their destination.”
She adds: “I worked with Dr Romdenh Romluc who does a lot of fascinating work around perception. We looked at how the space in a train is shaped to accommodate certain activities and actions and how the behaviours that shape human environments, like the train, include those that are dictated by cultural norms – we regulate our behaviour, such as how close we stand to someone else, how we sit and eat, and so on, in a way that is considered socially acceptable.
“We also try to adapt the environment further to aid our own needs so we might, for example, use a hook to hang a coat from to make a small tent to block out the light so we can sleep – all of which can be seen in my images in the exhibition.”
Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson from the university’s School of Languages and Cultures said, “The artwork featured in the Railway Cultures Exhibition provides a glimpse into everyday life on Britain’s railways, but they also give us a unique perspective of how life and culture in Britain has changed over the past 200 years.”
You can read more about the project here: