Photographer & Train driver from SNCF

The first time Anatole grabbed our attention was about an year ago, when he posted a story titled  “The Real Damage of the Trains” (read bellow in English) on Instagram. The text explained his opinions on the relationship of graffiti with the railway system, exposing a sombre reality that contridicted the all too familiar statements by the media and the SNCF concerning the costs of graffiti removal. This text highlighted a discrepancy in the amount of money that was being claimed by the railway companies for the removal of graffiti compared to the actual cost of physically removing said graffiti, all the while large amounts of money were being spent on travel and gifts for the CEO’s and VIP members of the staff.

Anatole is first and foremost a talented photographer and passionate trainspotter, who shoots on film, documenting the beauty of Parisian steel trains in detail. But secondly, he works as a train driver.  Someone we normally consider who would be directly affected by graffiti. Unwillingly, he has to face it everyday in his profession, however he has chosen not to ignore it’s existence.

Many things could be said on the topic of graffiti on trains. There are countless streams of information on the World Wide Web discussing this movement, both supporting and denouncing it. While Anatole doesnt practice or partake in graffiti, he does however witness and encounter it daily. Anatole has manifested his own opinions on the state of graffiti and it’s place in the environment, which we found deeply interesting. And even when given from his occupational perspective, they are also also surprisingly objectively driven, and open the floodgates for discussion for what many graffiti writers have been speaking about behind closed doors for years.

We had the pleasure to meet and speak with Anatole, to discover a part of his reality.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal


Please introduce yourself for the people who don’t know you.


My name is Anatole. I am 28 years old and have been working in the French railway system and driving trains in Paris, where I live, for almost 10 years.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

Can you describe for us the atmosphere of your work?


My work is for the lonely people who like to be in a crowd without having to speak with anybody. Generally, the day begins in a depot where we keep the trains, we then make tests to check if the train can operate in complete safety. Then we drive the empty train to the first station and we serve passengers for the rest of the day. While the atmosphere can vary depending on the shift, early morning, early evening, weekend etc.  as the passengers change, the trains remain the same.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

Is your work your passion?


My vision of life makes it impossible to link work with passion. Work is time which is stolen from me and in return for the stolen time, I get paid. My passion is trains. Not only at work, but before and after too. Both my grandfather and my father were rail workers and we always spoke about railways at home. Station atmospheres, the lines, new models, accidents, the rail worker strikes etc. So I guess I am not passionate about my job, but the environment of where I work. The depot, the people, the trains.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

What is the connection between graffiti and the railway system for you?


When I think about graffiti, I imagine it on trains. As I said before, people change but the trains remain the same. When a train is painted there is not only the guy who lives near the graffiti who sees it. The old man who lives in Versailles, the business man working in Paris and the homeless, who live everywhere. Trains are the most universal object for graffiti, especially the metro and suburban trains.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

What is your opinion on graffiti?


It exists, and I accept it. I never judge the quality; I think the ability to make that kind of judgment should be reserved for the guys who paint.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

What is your relationship with graffiti?


My first memory about graffiti was when I was kid in the Paris metro, with my mom and brother. We used to take line 4 when it was still the old model and travel through more than 20 stations. I was absorbing absolutely everything, the stations but also the tunnel, I was completely impressed by all the graffiti in the tunnels… I didn’t understand how it was possible that so many people could go into tunnels at night to paint.

I used to talk with people who are involved with graffiti, but I never talked about it clearly with them. Because for me, to appreciate graffiti from an outsider’s perspective, the most important thing is imagination. To imagine the action, how it has been done and what kind of guy did it, but again, I don’t want really to know, I’m just making up a story in my head, and that’s why quality is not very important for me. When I see a name in Paris and then recognize it in Moscow or Berlin, it’s amazing to think that the guy went to the exact same places with the same motivation and drive as the place I had seen them before.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal


Do you think graffiti destroys the beauty of the trains and the train system?


I completely understand the man who would tell me that it destroys the beauty of a train, but I also see people who say that they don’t find a train beautiful in the first place, so what is the beauty they’re speaking about? The beauty of the established order? For the others, who really like trains and find graffiti destructive I can understand because it’s also a matter of taste. But we must be serious, when we love railway system as I do, a painted train will still get cleaned, a closed line never reopens.

Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

How do your colleagues see graffiti? What do they comment on the topic?



There is a lot of fantasy surrounding that… We will never speak about graffiti between us. You must understand that we work in places where graffiti is absolutely everywhere, I think even ones who hate it are starting to accept it as a part of railway atmosphere. For example, I often talk with older colleagues in the station or depot about banal topics, and during the conversation if you have a huge piece of graffiti on a train passing just in front of us, most of them don’t even acknowledge it… they just see a train. The only real discussion I remember about graffiti was 2 or 3 years ago I think. The typical model from where I work had been painted to resemble how it looked during the 70’s to 90’s, in blue, with a big message “BACK TO THE 90’S”. This one was really appreciated by drivers, because there were a lot of detail about the trains, old drivers spoke about that time, and the young discovered why these trains are still nicknamed “Les Bleues” (The Blues)


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

If graffiti disappeared one day, would it be better?


For trains users? absolutely no difference.


 Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal


What do you have to do if the train you drive is painted, or if somebody pull the emergency break on the station and starts painting graffiti?


If the train is painted, we can only advise that it has occurred and it will be cleaned when they have enough time to do so. If somebody pulls the emergency brake, it’s a bit different… We must go into the carriage to check if everything is ok, next we advise security, and if everything is ok we can go on. I have never seen a man painting the train during my work, but for us the most important thing is safety. We watch to see if there are people on the tracks near the catenary, and make sure to switch off the electricity. The areas of railways are very dangerous for everybody.


 Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal


You have already had a conversation with them, and photographed them removing the graffiti from the trains. What else do the cleaners say about graffiti?


It’s very hard to speak with them. They are very precarious workers, and they don’t want to lose their job, so they are afraid to speak with unknown people. What they said to me about what was the hardest in their job was nothing to do with graffiti. They felt very disrespected by all the stuff they must clean in the train… Bottles, cans, papers and even human excrement… They felt humiliated by the people who do this. They feel humiliated by their firm too, as they have very low salary, low worker rights, and very hard work conditions. One of them told me that he prefers to clean the outside of train because it’s not as disgusting to do as the inside. But I also learnt that the product they use for cleaning graffiti is very dangerous for them. The Railway Union fights for applying the laws for these workers as like any others, but the fight is hard because of the precarious nature of these worker’s backgrounds.



What would you say to the graffiti writers that make tags on the train driver’s windows?


Nothing to say especially, it’s just not the best way to see their graffiti rolling. But in fact it almost never happens, the only train driver’s windows I saw painted were on abandoned trains. On the carriage window it’s different… when the train is clean, in a suburb trains there there are daily users, they pass the time watching their phone or their feet… It is a paradox, but the moment they can’t look by the window anymore because of graffiti, they try to! It is as if the graffiti has made them look up with their eyes. And maybe the following day, they appreciate more the view out from the window.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

Tell us what makes you laugh at work.


I love watching funny people, I’ve seen so many things in a train… things that make me want to vomit… but some funny things too… one of them was a guy who was panhandling, begging for change, and pulled the emergency signal. I talked to him by the intercom and with a cartoon voice he told me that he pulled the emergency signal because people weren’t nice to him and hadn’t given him any money.


And what makes you angry?


To be presented as responsible for any delay or problem in the train whereas I suffer from this like any other passenger. And I advise anybody to try this test; when the train arrives at it’s destination, look well, the driver arrives at the same time as you.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

In one of your stories you mentioned the fact that SNCF staff receive a free IPad as a gift. You compared that to the money SNCF spent on cleaning trains? Can you tell us more about that story?


I had spoken of this story, it is regarding a seminar where some of the managers received iPads, these same managers who speak about costs, efforts, and sacrifices that we must make. They know very well that these are only figures of speech, and certainly do not apply them to themselves.

As soon as you hear talk of “costs” you must ask yourself “for who?” Their way of thinking is completely toxic for the free thinkers: work becomes a cost. Its goal is to make the working class feel guilty, and to make them accept these new ‘sacrifices’. Hence you make people believe that the five million Euro cleaning bill is enormous, for a group whose turnover is 32 BILLION Euros. Inside those five million, the real cost of graffiti is the difference between the amounts paid to the workers to clean the trains, and the amounts received by the companies. When you charge thousands of euros for the cleaning of a disused train in a scrap yard, that will left to rust and not be cleaned, and thus no worker will receive a single euro for the cleaning, that is stealing. The difference is that the worker, when he receives his small wages each month, guess what he does with it? He spends it. I am not as sure that the money given to the cleaning company for a train that will not be cleaned will be spent in the same way. It sleeps, in a bank, and what should be public money becomes private, useless to the people, and this is the real cost. And in regards to the fight against those who benefit from this theft, graffiti writers are definitely not the enemy.


The Real Damage of The Trains. Text by Anatole PSL. Translation by Vinnie Smalls.

A small explanation following some messages or comments I have received. I only post Photos of trains exept in very rare cases. Trains and urban transport fascinate me and not only for visual reasons. In big cities they are essentialy the one place where every social class are forced to mingle, where what we hide in individual means of transportation is not hideable anymore. A means of transport, when it is public, belongs to no-one, especially not it’s managers, but to everyone, and as the colors of a town’s football club, a train’s colour depending on it’s region is a marker of territory.

Some people have criticized the photos of tags, grafittis, window scratchings, always reminding me the cost of these acts of “vandalism”. My reflexion when I read this is as follows : I have a very hard time grasping this close mindedness regarding the rail system. How can you love this mass transist systeme, dirty by nature, without it’s backround, it’s atmoshere ?

Personaly, as the son and grandson of rail workers, I have always loved trains. Born in 1987, I have never known the transit scenery without graffiti, it is inseperable with todays atmosphere. I am not forcing anyone to like it, but we need to put into perspective the “severety”…

Let’s talk costs…according to the sources above, cleaning train cars costs more than five million euros a year. For comparison reasons the communication budget is 220 million euros, the SNCF’s turnover 32 Billion…so yeah 5 million is not nothing..but contrary to the comunication budget that goes into the pockets of the advertising branch of TF1 and others hidden in offshore accounts, the major part of the ost here is the salary of the guys who clean…and to see such a cheap cost we could ask ourseves about the working conditions of these guys but here nobody gives a damn…paying some guy 900 euros a month to work every night shocks a lot less the nice Versailels traveller who is appaled when his trains window is a bit too colored for his mood’s grim atmosphere.

Would this be money that is not reinvested to better the public’s transport ?…first off with 5 million I don’t know what we can make better..but if they really want to try to make them back..we can suggest a few ideas…first off stopping the seminars in Tanger or Marocco for the 1000 most important people in the company who each received an Ipad for a completely non proffesional use..we can stop the smear campaigns against workers on strike and the populist excuses during the world cup when 30 seconds of advertsing cost millions..i’ve got a few others but I’ve just balanced up to 4 times the budget of the “war on graffiti”…

In this era where everything is about money..I smile when I see guys take unrationnal risks to go paint a train, a tunnel, or whatever, just for the hell of it, for the chalenge, the adrenaline, and the feeling of being alive. At the end of the day I see very little things today that are not done for monetary gain. This is one of it. The guys who paint a carriage don’t have a 200euro bill pop out of the last car when they are done..

Now that the heads of the SNCF think it is a fantastic idea to make the less wealthy from stations 40 km out of paris all into the same trains (ouigo), reivent the 3rd class, close lines for rentability reasons, insult the workers who everyday make the trains run..I think that the real rail vandals wear a suit and tie, and head the Board of Directors of the SNCF..

I will always admire the dozens of kids who are passionate about the trains of their cities or their regions. It’s awesome to see everything that they know about the trains and the amounts of bullshit that I often hear. These kids tell me about “their” trains. And they are right, these trais belong to everyone, to US. For now.

So…shout out to the cleaners of Pont Cardinet (Paris 17th) who work in appaling conditions, not because of tagueurs but because of their despicable employers. Long live trains !


What do you think about the punishment that graffiti writers get for their graffiti?


I recently saw an interview with AZYLE. I think I can’t say anything more than he already has. To be honest, I totally agree with him. If the cleaning was really so expensive it would mean the cleaners are very rich and their products to clean with are very good. The reality is far from it. I think the cleaners should ask for some salary increase when we see that it cost thousands of euros to clean one carriage just for “working costs” when I often see 2 guys clean a complete carriage in less than thirty minutes.


Interview With Traindriver Photographer SNCF Anatole PSL The Grifters Journal

Can you give us a list of the places where the trains of your line stay overnight?


You can call SNCF hotline on 3635, they’re very friendly.




Visit Anatole PSL & Badyear85 photo exhibition this Thursday, the 5th November from 19h at the new space TDTF in Paris.

TDTF PARIS, 43 Rue Cavendish, Paris 75019, France. Metro line 5: Laumiere

Facebook event here.

Follow Anaotle PSL on Instagram & Tumblr

About The Author

Boris is a Parisian based director, visual artist & curator. He is mostly known for founding the internet graffiti phenomenon The Grifters Journal and later with his alter ego Good Guy Boris, which shot him to popularity thanks to the success of a series of web video travelogues entitled Grifters Code. Instagram @goodguyboris