I began documenting these wagons over a decade ago. It is an interest which follows me as I go about my daily life. I have thus photographed many across Britain, Europe, Mexico, Canada and USA.
Wagontrain is a documentation of catering wagons which inhabit many unexpected areas of our urban and transitory lives. Many of these are predominantly austere, and as they stand within their elemental settings of tarmac, sod or sea and take on characteristics as diverse as their owners’. They have become integral additions to our consumerist social landscape, with more springing up in every corner wherever we travel. They are a barometer of shifting tides of popularity, of moving where people are congregating, the operator being self-employed, a master in his own kitchen. These eateries can be surprisingly attractive or repellently unsavoury. Some, with interiors echoing the owners own home, with objects and slogans part of the dining experience- a memory you take away with your styrene-cased lunch. Though few are eccentric, many function on practical austerity alone and are clinically clean, with only the basics of fast food listings to grab your interest.
With tenacity they have weathered shifting tastes and the fears brought by the tragic BSE/CJD and foot and mouth disease epidemics. Outbreaks that resulted in the ‘scorched earth’ policy of cullings that swept the British Isles.
Catering to a pioneering spirit they set up shop, tempting the passing peckish with an affordable snack. From the casual day-tripper to native urbanite, the boot fairer and re-enactor, lorry driver and travelling salesman, inebriated clubber to the sober cabbie, all types of people consume from these mobile kitchens be it in car parks, byways, fields or beside national monuments. They are open at times outside social hours, and situated in inaccessible places where often there is little else to eat. I feel these snapshots provide a special insight not only into the eating habits of the public but to an entrepreneurial spirit of caterers aimed squarely at the meagre end of the market. These days, with the nation caught in a programme of food re-education by a tireless crusade of ‘sophisticated’ TV chefs, it is interesting to realise that this no-frills business is real fast food to an increasingly fast moving nation.
As a teenager I became entranced by the off-limit world that inhabited fairs. My earliest memories came from living near a park where one came every summer. The truck convoy would arrive and park in formation, and by morning had disgorged its mechanical innards, and magically transformed my landscaped view into a haven of riotous colour. At night I'd watch the action from my bedroom window, and was lured by the pounding music and the chaotic ambience that throbbed from the once silent park.
I became fascinated by the people that worked the fairgrounds and the types they attracted. The fairs arrival symbolised danger and excitement and the inevitable prospect of meeting undesirable youffs. The fair always held fantastic sights. The game stalls dripped outlandish soft-toy prizes of desirable trash-beauty, whilst the luridly-lit strobed rides spun and flung the punters about. All were painted with the most inspiring art I'd ever seen.
Ray Bradbury's dark sci-fi stories became often read books of these early teenage years "The illustrated man" and "Something Wicked this way comes" my favourites - they were set around fairground people and places. At 15 at school, I got a job with 2 sign writers. The signs I painted these following years were not dissimilar to the artwork I'd seen at the fairs. The fairground's effect had truly taken root.
Cathy Ward 2008
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