Archive for January 2016

Story Telling or: How to Make Sense of all Our Images

Whether we consider ourselves railfans or photographers foremost, we all like to shoot railroads and have most likely amassed a large collection of images. My guess, based upon my own collection, is that most of these images are at first glance fairly random. A chase down a favorite line, roster shots in the local yard, a vacation trip to Colorado, a glint track shot on the way home from work, an industry meant to be modeled, etc. So what do we do with all these images?

We all place a high value on our own photographs, but will anyone beyond our railfan friends see and understand their worth? While many of our images will be throw-aways in the large body of railroad photography, we all can add value to the history of railroad photography and documentation by editing what we have shot and continue to shoot.

Getting Beyond the Easy and Obvious Ones

One of the the most magnificent sensations that we railfans experience is to follow a train in motion. It’s an amazing thing to watch a large and long physical mass move through the landscape like a snake with ease and grace. Add to this experience, the sounds of the locomotives and the various squeaks of steel on steel. Then there is the adrenaline rush and excitement of beating the train to the next location to grab a shot.

Chasing trains through the landscape is the stuff of railroad lore. It’s been well documented and romanticized in the railroad press for not only the aspect of capturing the train in multiple locations, but also the comradery that often accompanies it.

I enjoy the chase as well, but find that I’m doing it less and less. It’s not that I stopped enjoying the experience, but that I’ve found that it usually doesn’t lead to great photography, at least for me. The problem with the chase is that it leads one to photograph the easy and obvious shots as we don’t have the luxury of time to seek a unique shot if we want to continue the chase. Because of that, the chase always comes off as a series of known “greatest hits” of a rail line.

There are about 228,000 miles of rail lines in the United States, and I feel like we all are shooting the same 5% of that mileage. I know that many of these miles are boring sameness, featureless and some are difficult to access, but why can’t we reach out further beyond the easy and obvious photographic opportunities?