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Est. 1970 - 71

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Book Reviews

Reviews by members of publications that provide food for thought in the pursuit of  Phoenix-style images.

Following on from their 'Railroad & The Art of Place' book reviewed above, the Center for Railroad Photography and Art have produced an anthology expanding on this theme.

Featuring the work of 30 photographers and several short essays the book explores how railways shape and are shaped by the landscapes and communities they serve. Amongst the subjects explored in the essays are rural stations, post industrial landscapes, crossings and the spaces around railways.

The book features several truly astonishing photographs. In a chapter on North Dakota Lewis Ableidinger looks at the effect an area has on us as children growing up and how that remains with us through life. It features a terrific Black & White photograph of a string of deer crossing a snowy landscape as a train appears over the hill behind.

In a chapter on steel works in Pittsburgh there are some superb  Black & White pictures by Oren B Helbok.  Jeff Brouws  has some superb pictures in several of the  chapters. One really memorable image comes in the chapter on rural stations. Today there are just 529 stations on the Amtrak network, a truly shocking figure for such a vast country. The picture of the disused station building at Currie, Nevada could  be a still from a classic Western film.. Another Jeff Brouws picture struck a chord with me as it shows a lonely signal box (tower) at night with lights shining out into the darkness. A truly  memorable and atmospheric image.

There are several really striking colour photographs spread throughout the book. It's a real pleasure to see colours rendered in a muted natural tone allowing the pictures time to  have a lasting impact without being overwhelmed by over manipulation and processing.. Reproduction quality is superb throughout the book.

This hefty tome is an absolute must for railway photographers who strive to do more than just record images of trains. The essays are thought provoking and the images inspirational. Many of the concepts explored in the book are applicable to us here with large post industrial areas.. I can't recommend the book highly enough.

Dafydd Whyles

The Railroad and the Art of Place

Published by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art

ISBN 978-1637-60496-0

£38 - £45

This is quite a challenging book for railway photographers as all the images were made during dull days in February on Black & White film. This was a deliberate choice as the author was more interested in showing the landscape and how it relates to the railway.

The photographs were taken around Williamson in West Virginia, a prominent railhead on the Pocahontas Division of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad. This once booming coal railroad still carries the black gold but things have changed since the heyday and the towns along the route are now desolate and run down. Despite this the spirit of the people remain, both of the residents and the crews and staff along the line. As politicians angst and promise to help, the railway rumbles on.

This volume is the result of a long contemplation by the author of places and people and how the railways they serve interact. The book demands study and thought and can be an inspiration to us today. In these times of travel restrictions when we are looking much closer to home for our images than usual, this book helps us to look and think that little bit harder.

Dafydd Whyles .

book cover

The Railroad and the Art of Place, David Kahler.

Published by Center for Railroad Photography & Art

ISBN 978-0-692-74877-0

£38 - £46

This latest offering from the CRPA follows the tradition of focusing on a particular theme or photographer — in this case J. Parker Lamb, or Parker as he was known. He came to notice as a 20 year-old, having his first photograph published in TRAINS magazine in 1954 and in the following year being part of a feature on top railway photographers of the time.

Operating in Mississippi and Alabama, Parker became known for creative use of light and composition. As was the case in the UK, where many of the established photographers turned away from railways with the passing of steam, a few in the US carried on, turning their gaze to diesels and working out how they could photograph them in interesting ways and show the characteristics unique to them. Parker, along with a handful of others, pushed boundaries in US railway photography as Colin Gifford and others did in the UK about ten years later.

The 200 or so Black & White images in the book are nearly all reproduced full-page, to the usual stunning high quality we have come to expect from the CRPA. Not all of the images are ‘blow-your-socks-off’ masterpieces, but nearly every one is fascinating in style and subject-matter. I found five or six truly memorable images, taken in the 1960s, using techniques still not seen here today. Admittedly, Parker operated in a different world from that of  UK railways, but nothing of the kind was being done anywhere at the time. This is truly exceptional work.

The book rewards studied contemplation. It is easy to skim through it and think there isn’t anything exceptional in it. But study the images, and imagine standing there with him. How would we have photographed the scene? What would we have seen or wanted to show? This is an inspirational volume which I highly recommend.

Dafydd Whyles.

J Parker Lamb book cover

The Railroad Photography of J Parker Lamb

Published by Center for Railroad Photography & Art

ISBN 978-0-578-487502

Around £47

This was my first railway book in the mid 1970's and provided the inspiration to attempt a different style of photography, which wasn't common at the time. It was the first book in what was to become a series by Cooper-Smith.

The 80 pages are packed full of mainly black & white images with an 8 page colour section in the centre. Some are what could be termed 'bog standard front three-quarter' views but there are some gems lurking within.

To a youngster in the north-west, the locations featured in the book were just to dream of and seemed very much out of reach. I'm happy to say that many of them have now been visited, although the traction has changed and some are now rather overgrown!

Stand out images for me would be the 40 on Cartics passing Moorcock Inn at Garsdale at dusk along with another 40 set agaist the setting sun near Innerwick (Scotland) with a telegraph pole silhouetted against the sky. Both the previous images were easily trumped by a 37 crossing Sleekburn Viaduct on a coal train from Ashington colliery. Set against the sun complete with reflection it's wonderful considering the technology available in 1973 and I was happy to bag something similar myself in 2019.

All in all a book worth having residing in your collection.

Terry Callaghan.

British Rail Album No1 North & East, J.H.Cooper-Smith

Published by Ian Allan

ISBN 978-0711006140

Around £7 second hand

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