When I saw pictures of Canfranc for the first time, I was very fascinated. A train station of this size in an isolated valley of the Pyrenees – in the middle of nowhere – was something very special. When I started to think about this subject more intensively, I was also impressed by the visionary thought underlying this project. This idea was far ahead of European thought today. I could not imagine that the vision of a few people in the 19th century could have initiated such a project – at the time of rising nationalism in Europe.
I have always loved being in train stations. I have been enthusiastic about the coming and going and the functioning of the vehicles which was often connected with the slight feeling of itchy feet. During my adolescence, as a fan of trains, I often experienced different train routes and diverse train stations. But when I was looking at the train station in the Pyrenees, the fascination was much stronger. The attraction was due to the enormous size of the station and it awakened the photographer of architecture in me. The photographic dealing with buildings was my professional favourite. So, it seemed to be very attractive to photograph such a station once in a lifetime. But unemotional business numbers always shift a non-commercial project to the sphere of fantasy and daydreams.
Up to the point when I told a colleague and friend about it. In this conversation, I used the phrase: “Once you should go there and take better pictures..!” At the same moment, I realized that I just ordered myself a free photographic work. Who could stop me from taking these pictures if not myself? By infecting my colleague of this Canfranc virus, we started this project together and planned the journey to Spain. After ten days, we returned with many impressions and wonderful pictures.
After my journey, I experienced in my dreams how much Canfranc has caught me. The returning pattern of these dreams was the interior which we could not enter during our first visit and which fired my imagination a lot. Again and again, I walked through the undiscovered rooms and experienced the station in function, which means international train traffic. All this became even more fortified by the first little exhibition of the pictures in the rooms of my own photo studio. And even today the trains of Canfranc are coming and going in my dreams sometimes.
In the following years, my infected friend and colleague Stefan Gregor and I went to Spain together. We could not stop thinking about Canfranc and discovering new details. It was astonishing and depressing at the same time that some of our pictures, taken just one year ago, have documented the rapid decline of the train station through the lack of items from the previous equipment. In the meantime, I felt at home in the streets of Canfranc because the village had become familiar to me. At the same time, I realized that there will be a moment when the last picture has been taken. The photographic part of the project would be finished. In 2000, I experienced the moment in which the few last pictures have been developed.
The photos have not been produced as part of a long-term project with a clear focus from the beginning. Though I noticed that I had found a purpose with the photos that had become more and more meaningful to me. The point was to call attention to the historic value of the building and to prevent the final decline and deterioration. We hoped to achieve this goal by the increased perception of the pictures by the community. So, we realized various exhibitions that brought about attention and positive feedback but little of the expected and sustainable success. For example, one exhibition took place on the occasion of the anniversary of the initial operation of the train station at Canfranc, another in the rooms of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
It was our desire to accomplish this project by publishing the photos in a book. Until today, we have not achieved this goal because the production of such illustrated books of good quality has become uneconomical for the publishers due to the digitization. Though it is still in the back of my mind, I am a realist. It is really sad because the comparison between the different pictures is also very fascinating from the view of a photographer: My photos were made from the perspective of an architecture photographer, in black and white, by a 4 x 5” view camera, compared to the coloured pictures made from a photographer of reportage who worked with a miniature camera.
The project has been finished photographically, the pictures of 2010 and 2017 show the present state of things which makes the continuation of this project senseless. And the photos that are important to me have been finalized. Maybe there will be more interest in the future to see the original pictures in the frame of an exhibition. Following these pages, you will find more information. And maybe there will be a book containing these photos someday; I am not sure yet. But for sure is the heart beating which surprises me each time approaching Canfranc by car. Because my heart will never cease to beat for this train station. It leads me to go there again and again. The following pictures should tell you about it.
© Matthias Maas 2019