Edition #270 May 15, 2016
Good photos usually have good stories to go with them.
Our appreciation and enjoyment of fine photography can grow when we learn a little more about the background.
The goal of The Photographers’ Railroad Page is to provide an outlet for top quality photographs and their story.
Photographer: Kevin Scanlon
Photo by Kevin Scanlon
Almost all photographers are thieves. We steal ideas, styles, techniques and compositions. Sometimes we practically steal photographs outright, duplicating them with our own cameras as closely as possible. It’s not always intentional, sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it. Photos you have seen and admired live way back in your brain then nudge you into a certain composition when you are at the right location. Photography teachers commonly send their students out with instructions to try to produce photographs in the style of some chosen well known photographer. It is an exercise to force you to think like the other photographer, and hopefully you will get some insight on the process of choosing and composing a photograph.
I was living in San Francisco when TRAINS Magazine published Richard Steinheimer’s cover feature The Hill in 1981. The article made me see railroad photography differently. I was compelled to get back to Donner Pass and find that spot in the article’s opening photo spread. I had to see what Steinheimer saw, understand why he composed the picture the way he did. I wanted to stand there and think about how I would have photographed the location. Probably I would have taken the typical ‘train filling the frame’ photo. Then I wanted to imagine how he saw it and what made him choose to allow the gaping chasm below the tracks to dominate the photo. It wasn’t a train photo, it was a photo of a stunning landscape made poignant by including the railroad. I wanted to shoot his photograph in hopes that my brain would learn to see that way. His was the most stunning railroad photograph I had ever seen and it still sticks with me as the artistic mark I aim up for.
During the remaining six months I was living in San Francisco, I made a bunch of trips up into the Sierras. My routine was to leave our apartment near Golden Gate Park at 4:00am and drive the 150 miles past Sacramento to a spot on the map called Casa Loma, CA. I’d take a book or two and spend the day. At that time I’d usually only see one freight train during the entire day, SP’s eastbound “Salad Bowl” train of refrigerator cars. The only other movement I could count on was Amtrak’s eastbound Zephyr in the late afternoon. The extremely low traffic levels on the railroad during that time made it difficult to be able to get what I wanted. I shot one frame of film, maybe two for every 5 hours of driving.
Did I get what I was looking for? No, I was never satisfied with my results. Maybe some of it was because these pictures weren’t really mine. I took them, like a thief. Yes, I pushed the shutter button and did the work, but the whole time I was looking over a better photographer’s shoulder. More than making a photograph, though, the experience taught me something about seeing and added some fertilizer to the growth of my own style.
We hope you have enjoyed the site. This is our final edition.
Kevin N. Tomasic Kevin Scanlon
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