Sometimes a Photograph is as Much About the Photographer as it is the Scene Being Potrayed

CP 1293 at Pearl

Sometimes you see in a photograph something you didn’t see and/or understand at the time that you made the image. That something may tell you something about yourself.

That happened to me recently as I reviewed slides that I had made during an Akron Railroad Club steam excursion on the Ohio Central on Oct. 4, 2003. The trip featured former Canadian Pacific No. 1293 pulling the train from Sugarcreek to Morgan Run.

The train had halted at Pearl and many of the passengers disembarked to watch and/or photograph the photo runby.

Unloading had occurred at the crossing of a driveway that led to a cheese company store. A photo line then formed on that road.

There is an open grass field between the tracks and the cheese store and some folks stood in various places in that field behind the photo line.

On Photography Logo-xI walked to the far end of the field and stood in some brush just beyond the edge of that field where the property owner had stopped mowing the grass.

I don’t clearly remember why I did that. I had been at photo runbys involving steam locomotives before and was aware of the common practice of establishing a photo line.

I had stood in photo lines myself. I had also stood apart from photo lines because I wanted to get my “own” angle on the image.

But on this day I seemed oblivious to the existence of the photo line.

I have a vague recollection of having walked far from the photo line in an effort to create some open space.

But, as you can see in the image above, that plan was foiled when three folks stepped up close to the edge of the ballast of the tracks with the apparent same idea that I had.

I wasn’t pleased, but not necessarily upset. The behavior of people at photo runbys can be an interesting study in itself.

The guy wearing the hat must have seen me for he kneeled down in order to become less of an obstruction.

It wasn’t until I was reviewing this image that I realized that my standing far away from the photo line says something about me that transcended my desire for a good image.

At the time of this trip, I had been a member of the ARRC for less than two months.

I knew just one person in the club, the late David McKay, and recognized a few other faces I had seen at other railroad related events. But I didn’t know those people at the time.

I still felt like an outsider and my walking to the far end of the photo runby site probably reflected a subconscious lack of level of comfort with this group.

It was for that same reason that I skipped the dinner after the trip at the Swiss Hat restaurant in Sugarcreek.

I’ve also never been one to enjoy being in a crowd so that might have played a role in where I chose to stand.

Throughout the trip I mostly kept to myself and this photograph is a reminder of that.

The image also reminds me of why I’m glad that I now have a digital camera.

You may have noticed that the train is quite some distance from my location. “Best practices” composition techniques say that I should have waited a second or two longer before tripping the shutter.

But if you look at images that I made during this era, I was notorious for making photographs too soon. It is a common error made by novice photographers.

The train looks larger and closer in the viewfinder than it actually is. I have a lot of photographs with tons of “empty space” between me and the front of an oncoming train.

My Canon Rebel G camera could only expose one frame of film per second. My digital Canon 60D can expose five frames per second.

In a way, though, the presence of those bystanders who initially annoyed me saved the photograph.

Another way of looking at the image is that it is about what people do when they watch trains. It is not so much about the train itself even if that was my primary subject matter. In this image the train turned out to be secondary.

I still think this would be a better image if I had waited a little longer for the train to come to me. But if I had, it would not have the dramatic smoke action of this image.

I did make a photo of the locomotive much closer to where I was standing and the amount of smoke coming from the stack had greatly diminished.

By the time the 1293 got to the end of the field, the train had started to slow in preparation for a stop and back-up move.

In 2004, the ARRC had another steam trip on the Ohio Central with the 1293. By then I had gotten to know some people in the club and in fact had been approached about running for president because Dave planned to retire after 12 years in that position.

During the 2004 trip, I stood on the photo line with everyone else. I also went to dinner after the trip at the Swiss Hat and enjoyed talking with those at my table.

My comfort zone had greatly expanded to include even those in the ARRC I didn’t yet know.

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