On Photography: What Makes Warm Memories?

I can’t think of better title than the one that Marty Surdyk came up with for his program at the February Akron Railroad Club meeting last week.

“Warm Memories for a Cold Night” conjures up images of walking in out of the cold and sitting down in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace while sipping hot chocolate and swapping railfan outing stories with old friends.

On Photography Logo-xThere is something about reminiscing about the past while looking at photographs that can make you feel safe and secure on the coldest day or hold at bay whatever is causing you stress, even if only for a few moments.

In particular, I find myself lingering over images that I associate with my own memorable outings.

But what makes an outing memorable? It is not the same thing as having a memory of the event.

I’ve been to Berea to watch trains scores of times, but few of those outings were memorable. They were enjoyable at the time, but were soon filed away and forgotten as just another day of railfanning.

They thus joined a class of vague recollections that all run together. You remember not specific outings but a series of similar outings.

In the case of Berea that might be, “I remember going out to Berea a lot on Saturdays.”

Maybe you remember a series of rituals associated with those outings, but no specific one stands out above the others.

When I think about specific outings that I find memorable a number of factors come to mind that make them stand out.

Something happened to cause an emotional link to the event whether it was the trip from hell or a day filled with unexpected pleasures.

It might be that the trip featured a first, a last or a one of a kind. It also might be that during the outing a number of special occurrences unfolded.

Such was the case for me on a Saturday in late January 2015 during a trip to Pittsburgh when we spotted six Norfolk Southern heritage locomotives in a single day. That’s right, six of ‘em. We were able to photograph three, including two that were double-headed.

That same day began at Summit Cut on the Fort Wayne Line on a morning with single-digit temperatures when I made one of my most dramatic winter images.  An eastbound train came around an S curve with thick layers of ice on the walls of the cut.

Later, we parked in an active traffic lane on a street in West Park, jumped out of the car and literally ran to a bridge to photograph that train with the double-shot of H units, led by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and with the Central of New Jersey trailing.

At the same time, five other guys were doing the same thing and you should have seen the reaction of a couple that was cross country skiing at the time in the park as this herd of guys with cameras came running from nearly every direction to descend upon the bridge that they wanted to cross.

Furthermore, we had made a wrong turn and barely got there before the train. I thought for sure we had missed it.

Such is the stuff of memorable outings. You look back and feel good about having done them.

During his program, Marty mentioned outings that featured heavy rain, multiple flat tires and a dead battery.

At the time, having to respond to such situations was unpleasant and stressful, but with the passage of time you realize that the adage “this, too, shall pass” holds a lot of truth. Everything turned out all right in the end and you survived.

As much as I enjoy viewing the photographs of others, there is something about seeing my own images made during memorable outings that creates an emotional connection I’ll never quite have when seeing the work of others.

Not only is it a way to remember and feel good about the future, but it is also motivation to go out and create more memories by doing it again.

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