Métro memories

In Paris they take graffiti seriously. Just walking around the French capital leaves a certain kind of tourist full of admiration albeit for the hardcore damage rather than the usual attraction of towering ironwork. In particular the technique of ‘punitions’ whereby a train panel is covered with repetitions of a tag, rather than a larger piece, fires the imagination. Travelling around the city on the métro and the eye is drawn to another type of tagging in the form of the numerous abrasive marks scratched into the shiny metal doors of the carriage interiors. Hidden in plain sight most passengers must barely notice these colourless tags but a new publication MF.67D: Ligne 12 sets out to document some of those that can be found on the twelfth line of the subterranean transport system. 

The most striking element of this book is its cover which is made from sheets of sandpaper held together with metal screws. This is the basic material used in the technique to produce the tags documented within. Perhaps it can also be taken as a nod to Mémoires, produced in the 50’s by Asger Jorn and Guy Debord, which was published with a sandpaper dust jacket designed to ruin other books it was shelved alongside or any surface it was placed upon. Intentional or not the reference to the Situationists is an obvious one to draw. Sandwiched between this unusual cover are xeroxed black and white images of what could be termed ‘scratchiti’, although this charmless portmanteau doesn’t quite do justice to the peculiarly Parisian technique. So I thought I would ask Emsoccc, the book’s author, a bit more about why they thought this type of graffiti was important to document in particular.

First, I started by documenting all the engraved doors of Parisian métro I could with the idea to make something with it one day or another. Mainly because I like the aesthetic of engraved tags – raw – but also because it stays much longer than other tags in the metro, so it reveals a history of graffiti with old and new generations on the same surfaces. Then, I realised line 12 had something more than the other lines, it had many more tags than any others. So I felt I had to do something about it, but soon enough I understood that it was not line 12 but the train itself that interested me, the MF 67D, because it moved from one line to another over time, so the tags could have come from anywhere. So I started to dig for more information about this model, and realised there was a real world of enthusiasts for the MF 67D. I learned many things, but the most important for me was that this model would disappear soon, with its doors, and the tags on them. This approaching disappearance clearly pushed me to make this book as a testimony for everyone. It took me only one day to photograph all these pictures. I took the 12 line all day going back and forth, by stopping at every station and changing carriage, then taking pictures of every door I could. I only stopped when I started to end up on the same trains.

I wanted to take an active part in this documentation and fill in the missing history

It’s clear that the eponymous rolling stock of the book’s title is viewed as a classic design beloved by rail enthusiasts, graffers and Métro workers alike. The introduction to the publication contains a complete list of the MF 67 multiple units operating on the number 12 line along with a description of their manufacture and specifications. An explanation of the numbering system is explained whereby, for example, some are prefixed with a ‘G’ to indicate that they are fitted with a track lubrication system… This is the kind of information that would probably put off the casual reader along with the ensuing photographs of graffiti that would, no doubt, be even more unintelligible than usual. However MF.67D seems to be part of a trend of publications about European trains which focus on their subject with unabashed hyper-nerdy enthusiasm. Personally I love this merger of the trainspotters eye for regimented detail of design alongside the seemingly chaotic irreverence of graffiti. 

There was a huge historical documentation made by enthusiasts, especially the ‘Karodaxo’ website which documented every single detail about the MF 67 but nothing about those doors. I wanted to take an active part in this documentation and fill in the missing history, but also to make a kind of bridge in between these two worlds. I liked the idea that different communities share the same passion for the métro but in totally different ways. So I tried to make this a publication for métro enthusiasts from all sides. Even if I already knew the book would mainly interest writers, I’m happy that some people from the ‘other side’ asked me for the book too. This is mainly thanks to Mohamed SY who also communicated about the book to a community aware about the MF 67D.

Mohamed SY an SNCF employee, and lover of urban transport, contributes a text about his passion for the métro. His interest began at a young age while using public transport on trips with his mother. Of all the trains it is the MF 67 which he describes as the most “magnificent”. He writes about his interest in the history but also the aesthetic appeal and even the atmosphere of this classic design. Being ambivalent at best about the graffiti found on them this is an unexpected text to discover in the publication.    

I have known for sometime the account of Mohamed SY on Instagram, and I was really fascinated by his obsession and the way he documented the métro world. He is a real inspiration and reference for me in photography. So when I started the project and searched for information about the MF 67D, I realised that he was a real expert of the model and his website helped me a lot with my research. I decided to contact him by mail explaining the project and asked him to write something about the MF 67D and he was up for it. I’m really proud to have this text of his, so to end up, I would like to thank him again for having taken time for this project!

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