Generally, when we think of railroad photography, we think of it from our own perspective of one that admires and pedestalizes the many aspects of railroading. Our perception certainly defines how we see and represent trains. But, are we seeing the railroad one-dimensionally and blind to other ways of seeing that may influence our own photography?
Trains have been around for about 200 years now…long enough to have engrained themselves within our culture and society with various meanings. They represent history, travel, heritage, romance, technology, freedom, mobility, power, nostalgia…the list can go on with various connotations. These other perspectives are usually photographed differently than how we generally represent the railroad. These alternative view-points are worth considering, or at the least to have an awareness of, as we broaden our own visual literacy.
Close to how many of us portray the railroads, in aesthetic style and vision, are photographs made by the railroads themselves. Since their beginnings, railroads have hired professional commercial photographers to shoot their equipment, facilities, engineering and landscape with the end goal of persuasion. They are seeking to ‘spin’ their point of view to influence public perception, investors, or politicians to better their business position. While we tend to think of any commercial or advertising photography with a dis-taste, attempting to deceive or sell us something, much of this photography matches the vision we share of the railroad. What generally sets good commercial photography photography apart from that of a railfan, is that it attempts to tell a story that supports the marketing message of the railroad.