The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust
There is no greater experience to me as a photographer than discovery. It can take the form of a journey, of seeing, of creating. More often than not discovery isn’t pre-conceived and I find that unexpected revelation to bring great joy and satisfaction. Over time, I have learned to let serendipity and spontaneity be my allies in discovery, and a recent trip to Colorado was arranged to allow time for the unplanned to happen.
Every year for the past 15 or so, a small group of my friends and I head out west to ski the mountains, and this year we choose to meet in Colorado. Getting into the mountains is invigorating as I love the snow covered landscape and the crisp air of winter. Along with skiing, photographing the mountain landscape and how the railroads engage them is a draw that brings me back every year.
My flight got me into Denver 6 hours earlier than another member of my party and my initial plan was to ride the new train out of the airport and explore the line while I waited for him. By chance, a few days prior to my flight, Bryan Bechtold mentioned to me that he could arrange a meeting with Mel Patrick. Well, for anyone interested in railroad photography, Mel’s reputation is well established and he’s one of the deans of the genre. With time on my hand, that train was still taken, but now to meet Mel and spend the afternoon with him.
While Mel admittedly doesn’t shoot much anymore, he is still quite passionate about railroad photography and we spent a long afternoon discussing and reviewing pictures. Mel is a railroad photography innovator in many ways, most critically being his creative vision. He continues to use that ‘eye’, but now it’s often directed at evaluating other’s work. Whether lending organizational support to the annual CRPA contest or examining the work of early railroad photographers Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, Mel has maintained a willingness to challenge assumptions in the genre. In reviewing images with him, his sense of wonder and enthusiasm for photography and railroading is infectious, and I had to marvel at his youthful energy and ability to constantly challenge the norms of seeing.