That “killer” image that we all look for is sometimes not enough. To tell a story, go deeper into a subject or come to terms with an idea or emotion that cannot be expressed in a single image, we may need to undertake a multiple image project.
Sometimes projects come together after the fact when we find among our images relationships that we didn’t see at the time we made the shot. Sometimes projects are very intentional, involving research, shot lists, perhaps even a storyboard. Last month I mentioned David duChemin and his concept of using the camera as a tool of exploration, and I recommend his current video podcasts where he expands this idea in relation to personal projects. Simply put, David’s advice is to get an idea that interests you and is not too broad, and begin exploring that concept visually with a camera. Read more
Recently, I have been thinking about the role of photography in documenting the railroad landscape. Photography and the railroad grew up together. Both were born in the early years of the 19th century and photography has provided a valuable documentary record of the industry that helped power the industrial revolution and the creation of the modern world.
Like so many of us, my interest in railroading led to a parallel interest in photography. Not only did I have the pleasure of planning the photo, but later the images evoked powerful memories of people, places, and events I had encountered as I learned more about this fascinating industry.
At its very core, railroading is and always has been about connecting people. Whether it’s the conveyance of travelers from point A to point B or commercial goods from seller to buyer, serving people is the common link in all of railroading. It’s easy to spend time trackside and witness the locomotives, rolling stock, tracks, signals, buildings, etc., but when distilled down to its very essence, railroading is a very human subject to photograph.
Lull on CN’s Rivers Sub west of Portage la Prairie, 1984
I brought my camera, look at me,
While trackside, not a train I see.
Does that deter me? No, not I,
What’s that, grey ballast that I spy?
A groundhog brown, geese flying by?
Images to my camera card now fly.
When I get home, downcast and sad,
My NoTrophy photos don’t look half-bad!
NoTrophy, (a short form of NoTRain photOgraPHY) is a recognized trackside syndrome characterized by train photography completely unfettered by trains. Don't worry, it happens to everyone at some point. If it lasts more than four hours, don't consult your doctor. Just go home and come back tomorrow.
I have decided to present some of my best NoTrophy photography (or if you prefer, my worst railfanning photography) with poetry. I'm proud of the photos, I'm just not proud I had to take them...oh, the bleak and desperate futility of NoTrophy!
What remains of the abandoned Bluestone Branch sits quietly above its namesake river as the buzz of cicadas fills the brisk fall air. Through the fog, the sound of a pair of General Electric locomotives interrupts the tranquil setting as they work downgrade through Coopers, West Virginia.
Two-hundred-seventy miles northwest in Columbus, Ohio, the whirring of dynamic brakes grows louder as headlights from around the curve cast light on the rails ahead. At street level, hockey fans are celebrating the home team’s win, oblivious to the train entering the scene below. Before the train ducks beneath the road, the crew sounds the horn, startling the people above.
While these scenes are miles apart — in distance and environment — they both show the diverse landscapes that railroads travel through across the country.
Capturing the entirety of these scenes is important to me as a photographer. Looking beyond the tracks allows me to use elements from the surroundings to complete the composition.
One of my favorite techniques is making the train seem almost as though it’s an afterthought, by using the composition to lead the viewer’s eye through the scene.
Another important aspect is connecting railroads to local infrastructure and landmarks, making the viewer feel as if they are part of the story. Whether it be bridges, buildings or grain elevators, these elements make each location unique. They tell individual tales and express the contributions that railroads have made to their communities.
In our ever-changing world, it’s important to capture these moments in time through photographs. Trains have not only had a historical impact on our society, but they will continue to carry significance in the future.
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Brandon Townley – Photographs Copyright 2016 Text Copyright 2016 – Brandon Townley and Taylor LaPuma
See more of Brandon’s work here.