About the exhibition

Hélène Jagot

Travel, isn’t that the first step towards freedom?


This epigraph could have been a slogan for the Macron buses created following the enactment of the 2015 French law on “economic growth, activity and equal opportunities.” The liberalization of the coach travel industry was clearly intended to enhance the mobility of low-income individuals by developing a low-cost service, the idea being that this option would benefit those who have more time to spare than money. Launched in 2018 as part of a workshop for students on the master’s in urbanism and urban planning at the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, the study* undertaken for the Mobile Lives Forum analyses the reality of these “Macron buses” three years on from the law’s enactment: Who uses them? For what purposes? How do users experience this new mobility opportunity? How do these buses influence people’s representations of travel? This sociological survey was accompanied by a artistic project that reveals the reality of this mobility through pictures. Far from being a classic reportage that would simply use photos to supplement the transcription of the field work carried out by urban planning students, the goal of the photos is to give viewers an immersive sense of these long haul journeys.

The Mobile Lives Forum commissioned a young self-taught photographer, Benjamin Cayzac, who made a name for himself at the Voies Off festival of Arles in 2018. The subject of the “Macron buses” led him to question his own personal mobility as a young professional constantly on the road between Paris and his native South, and sparked his interest as these buses challenge the ecological impact of our collective mobility at a time when we’re still seeking to always go further and faster at a lower cost. Versed in theatre and cinema through his education at Cours Florent, Benjamin Cayzac became interested in photography from a young age thanks to an exhibition by William Klein, the great photographer of post-war America, who was fascinated by the spirit of children behaving like gangsters in the colorful streets of New York. There he learned a lesson: at the center of everything, of every topic, is people, humanity in all its variety. This focus on the human element transpires in his vision of the bus journey he undertook several times, repeating the trips to better connect with the travelers. His compositional work depicts the amazing voyages that take place aboard these buses that are always on the road racking up kilometers, going through landscapes of highways and urban centers, circling through dreary days and sleepless nights, enabling improbable encounters and bringing together individuals that would otherwise never have met. Of the thousand photographs taken during these trips from Paris to the South, Brittany, Aquitaine or Auvergne, he selected sixty - the core essence of the “traveler’s experience on the Macron buses.” From one coach station to another, he captured the passengers waiting under harsh neon lights, the bags too big and numerous for pensioners and families to carry, the regulars of modern vagrancy, well equipped for long hours in a sitting position, the patience of the drivers, the early alarm clocks while at full speed on the ring road, the concentrated or distracted, joyful and scowling faces of passengers working, reading, playing, stretching their legs on motorway rest areas, and finally their goodbyes at the other end of the asphalt strip to fellow travelers and then enjoying reunions with loved ones – the kind of reunions that make these long, fast-paced, motionless hours seem worthwhile. A polyphonic and silent photo novel, a confined space of realistic theatre.

Immersed in his subject, Benjamin Cayzac himself experienced these unusual, sometimes non-existent coach stations, the anxiety of the first trip, the loneliness of the underground parking stations, the purring of the engine and the screeching brakes, the proximity with other travelers, the more or less fruitful attempts to create your own cocoon in a row of unoccupied seats and the nights without intimacy, the dirty carpets littered with crumbs and coffee stains, the out-of-service toilets, the aggressive lights of highway rest areas - all the attributes of a mode of transport that could be described as a new “third class”, slower, less comfortable... but cheap. Yet the experience of “the Macron buses” can’t be summed up as just a low-cost travel experience. Before taking his pictures, Benjamin Cayzac developed a protocol for approaching his subjects. He consulted the students of the sociological survey to combine his artistic vision with their approach as urban planners in order to enrich the study’s results. He asked people their name, their age, their professional status, their view on bus travel, their travel habits, what they would like to change about this mode of transport. And just as they responded to the students’ questionnaires – surprise! – he found that coach travel isn’t just used by low-income people who have no choice. Some passengers, who aren’t necessarily the poorest, actually like to spend this extra time travelling, because they aren’t afraid to waste some time and face boredom, because they want space for introspection, or more prosaically they want to finish reading the huge book that has been collecting dust on their nightstand for months. Retirees, students, they all want to enjoy this longer journey time - this time that is lost (or saved) on high-speed trains and domestic air flights, this time that ultra-mobile professionals no longer allow themselves because time is money, and we can’t afford to waste that.

Benjamin Cayzac's viewpoint as a documentary photographer reflects that of the academic study: an impartial work on this new form of mobility. Beyond the pleasure of traveling shared by some passengers, Benjamin Cayzac doesn’t gloss over the precarious conditions of this mode of transport, with ultra-polyvalent staff members who are at once drivers, controllers and even maintenance agents - alone on board managing fifty travelers. This precariousness inevitably raises the issue of the profitability of a road service which is sometimes the only possible means of transport for the poorest and youngest, and all those deprived of individual mobility. Yet his portraits, whether snapped in the bus or on a desolate parking lot, still capture a core humanity and a certain poetry in these objects in contrasted light - lonely sneakers, a finished picnic, a cloudy sky seen through a window. The document thus fades behind the photographer's sensitive gaze; the statistics are far away, only the encounters remain.



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