On Photography: The Emotional Power of an Average Image Made During a Memorable Outing

Ashtabula April 22 2007

For more than 13 years the photograph shown above sat in a plastic sleeve in a binder on a shelf in my home office.

It shows Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited passing the former New York Central passenger station in Ashtabula on April 22, 2007.

No. 48 has never stopped here to receive or discharge passengers.

On Photography Logo-xI’m with Marty Surdyk and this is our first photo opportunity of the day. No. 48 is on time, having left Cleveland on the advertised at 7 a.m.

This image is the third of six that I made of this passage of Amtrak No. 48 on a splendid spring morning through Ashtabula.

I do not consider it the best of the lot, although it might be second best. When I looked at this image initially, I saw flaws. What you are seeing is a cropped version.

I was using an 18 to 200 mm zoom lens with my Canon Rebel G camera and given where we were standing, this was as far in as I could get with that lens.

The best image of the six I made is a wide-angle shot that shows more of the locomotives and train. It was the image we had in mind making when choosing where we stood to make photographs.

Shooting the train with the depot in the frame was almost an afterthought. The slide – probably made on Fuji film – sat in that binder until this week.

I was working on an article for the soon-to-be launched Akron Railroad Club eBulletin about one of my most memorable railfan outings.

I saw image and decided to scan it. It was only when I was processing the image in Photoshop that the meaning of it began to come into focus.

This image captures less than a second of an outing that lasted about 12 hours. Yet that was enough to make what photographers describe as “a moment.”

As moments go, this one is not likely to resonate with many people because they don’t see what I see. You probably see an Amtrak train and an old depot. There is nothing out of the ordinary or dramatic about this scene.

More sophisticated viewers are thinking it would be a better photograph had the photographer waited a millisecond or two before tripping the shutter. That would have put the lead locomotive more to far right side of the frame and helped to cover some of the clutter.

The poles in the foreground are also clutter even if there is nothing that anyone could have done about them short of removing them from the image in Photoshop.

If this image was being judged, it probably would be rated as average. Next!

But as I looked at this photograph again I saw something that is not so obvious to the casual viewer who does not know what I do about this moment and image.

Winters are long and harsh in Northeast Ohio and this photograph was made during one of the first, if not the first, warm and sunny day of the year when I had an opportunity to get out to railfan.

The image was made not long after Amtrak rescheduled No. 48 to depart Cleveland at 7 a.m. That meant opportunities throughout much of the year to photograph an Amtrak train in daylight in Northeast Ohio.

This was the first opportunity that I had to take advantage of that. Amtrak is one of my favorite railroads and I seldom have opportunities to photograph its operations in Ohio in daylight.

Those 7 a.m. departures from Cleveland did not last long. Today, Amtrak is scheduled to leave Cleveland at 5:50 a.m.

I also like the juxtaposition of a passenger train passing a station that has not served that purpose for almost 18 years.

At one time Ashtabula was the northern terminus for NYC passenger trains originating in Pittsburgh and coming up from Youngstown. Sleepers were interchanged here with Chicago-New York trains.

What a busy place this must have been. Passenger trains on the Youngstown Line lasted through the late 1950s.

But aside from all of that, this image reminds me of one of my better railfan outings. Spring is the season of renewal so a good spring day is a promise of good days ahead.

Getting this Amtrak train was a promising start to what turned out to be a special day.

Above all it reminds me that although moments are fleeting they live on in our memories and warm, entertain and even inspire us time and again.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “On Photography: The Emotional Power of an Average Image Made During a Memorable Outing”

  1. Bob Says:

    How true this is about the emotional power of an image. Too often I have focused on image quality and have left the emotional power unsaid as if it was a well-known given. Thanks for the challenge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: