Photo inspiration – Montparnasse

Recently, I’ve been exploring the utterly addictive (and riskily time-sucking) website Pexels, which stocks thousands of free-to-use photos which you’re able to download and use in blogs, graphics, however you want really. I’m quite happy with some of the graphics I’ve created so far for both existing and future projects (see blatant plug below):


Last week though, idly browsing for images of Paris (not really project-related, but hopefully one day), I stumbled over an image which has always fascinated me. My dad has a copy of it on the wall above his model railway, and I used to think it looked like a giant, leaning against the wall. Coming across it, free-to-use, I felt I had to share and write about it.

For those who don’t know, this is the famous image of the Montparnasse derailment, which happened on 22nd October, 1895, at the station in the heart of Paris.

The train, from Granville to Paris, was running late, and the drive had been trying to make up time, entering the station at 40-6o km/h, far too fast. The brakes failed to stop it, and momentum carried it not only through the buffers, but across the concourse and through the station wall, 10m above the Place de Rennes.


Amazingly, nobody on the train or in the station was seriously injured, but tragically, a single person was killed below. Marie-Augustine Aguilard was standing in for her husband, a newspaper seller who had left her briefly in charge as he went to collected the evening editions.

The train wasn’t moved for several days, and the photo I found online has become iconic, featuring in many books about railway incidents, and, annoyingly, quite a few internet memes, captioned ‘epic fail’.

Following the incident, the driver and guard were fined 50 and 25 Frances, respectively, for their part in causing the tragedy.

So, an odd topic for a blog, but odd can be a good thing. I’ve always just thought it was so tragic the paper-seller was killed, given the bizarre circumstances which caused no other serious injury.

I also think of it whenever I’m in a station where trains are above road-level, of which there are plenty about (I noticed it at Waterloo as I was walking through last month).

No message then, just a haunting image. I had thought of trying to use it for ekphrasis, and posting a poem or short story, but really, the true story is enough, and it will always be an image I’ll find too intriguing not to look at twice.


One thought on “Photo inspiration – Montparnasse

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