Posts Tagged ‘railroad photographers’

How Many Photographs of Something Are Enough?

January 27, 2020

An Ohio Central train heads south of Warwick on Oct. 19, 2008. It is one of the few images I made here when the OC still used this line.

Every so often you’ll hear someone say “get your photos now” about something that is in danger of vanishing in the not so distant future.

In showing his golden oldie photographs at Akron Railroad Club programs a photographer I know was fond of saying, “It will always be there, right?”

Well, no it won’t be.

Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna and Conrail were once everyday fixtures on the railroad scene of Northeast Ohio.

But that was decades ago. Some routes these companies once operated in the region have been abandoned.

I don’t disagree with the “get ‘em now” advice yet the contrarian in me is almost screaming to get a word in on the matter.

How much is enough?

There is a difference between getting something you don’t have and making one more image of something you’ve photographed before, perhaps many times.

I have a long list of those “I never . . . instances”

I never photographed a Conrail train in Olmsted Falls even though I spent many a day just 10 to 15 minutes or so away in Berea watching and photographing Conrail there.

I never photographed a Norfolk Southern train with New York, Susquehanna & Western motive power enough it was a regular during my eary years living in Cleveland.

I never photographed Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian anywhere in Northeast Ohio other than Berea and once at the Cleveland Amtrak station and once in Alliance.

And the list goes on.

I would later atone for my sins by making hundreds or photographs of NS trains in Olmsted Falls and getting other Amtrak trains in various places in Northeast Ohio.

But I never caught the Susie Q here and in fact the only photographs I have of Susequehanna motive power was made during the 1995 National Railway Historical Society Convention’s outing to Steamtown National Historic Site.

How many photographs does any photographer need to make of a given railroad at a given location? How much is enough?

I have a small collection of photographs of Ohio Central and R.J. Corman trains operating between Warwick and Massillon.

But Ohio Central stopped using this former Baltimore & Ohio branch several years ago in favor of interchanging with CSX in Columbus rather than Warwick.

For a short time in the waning days of OC’s use of the Warwick-Massillon line, I made a few trips on Sunday afternoons to chase and photograph Ohio Central trains.

I even managed to get a few photographs of Corman trains on this line.

But is it enough? No. But will it do? It will have to.

There are many photo opportunities that are beyond your reach because you can’t get out with your camera due to work obligations or other commitments.

Photographs need to think about how active they want to be. How much time and money do you want to invest in your hobby?

People who are highly obsessed with something seldom ask “how much is enough?” Whatever they have is never enough.

But I wonder sometimes what has been sacrificed to chase every last possible opportunity.

Most photographers I know are not that single minded. I admire the work of those who are, particularly if they have excellent photography skills.

The answer for most photographers is a matter of degree. I try to regularly get out and create photographs but recognize I’m never going to have the body of work of someone who makes it a quasi career.

The question we need to periodically ask ourselves is whether we are doing as much as we could with what we have. How did you spend that sunny afternoon yesterday? Making photographs or watching a baseball game on TV?

Life is not always either or. I’ve enjoyed watching games on TV and I’ve also made it a point to sacrifice watching a game to get out with my camera.

Perhaps the answer to the question of “how much is enough?” is this: Enough to say that you recorded it even if just one time.

You don’t need everything that is or was out there. You just need enough to gain a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment from your hobby.

John Gruber was Influenced by the Work of Photojournalists and Brought That to Railroad Photography

October 11, 2018

Wednesday, Oct. 10, was a slow day for railroad news. Oh, there was news made and reported, but none of it involved railroad operations in the region that I cover for the Akron Railroad Club blog.

Among the news items on Wednesday was an obituary for John Gruber, 82, of Madison, Wisconsin, a noted railroad photographer and founder of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

I wasn’t going to report Gruber’s death on the ARRC blog because I wasn’t sure most ARRC members would know who he is even if they might have seen his work.

But I was intrigued when former Trains editor Kevin Keefe wrote in a tribute that Gruber had pioneered a “daring new approach to photographing the railroad scene.”

That got my attention. What was it? How was it daring?

It turns out that Gruber was an early practitioner of using a telephoto lens to, as Keefe put it, practice the art of “getting up close and personal with professional railroaders.”

This wasn’t something that Gruber thought of on his own but rather was the byproduct of the influence of newspaper photographers.

Keefe wrote that Dick Sroda of the Wisconsin State Journal and Jim Stanfield of the Milwaukee Journal inspired Gruber to go beyond what he was seeing in Trains magazine.

“It was a time when press photographers and journalists were interested in what people were doing,” Gruber once said. “I saw this as an underrepresented area of railroad photography, and I took advantage of every opportunity to document railroad people at work, rather than concentrating on equipment.”

Gruber may have built a career on people-oriented photographs, but it is not a philosophy that has caught on with most rank and file railfan photographers.

Most railfans are fixated on the equipment, particularly the lead locomotive of a train. The people working on the train, riding the train, or watching the train are an afterthought if they are thought about at all.

That is particularly true of spectators and bystanders. We’ve all heard someone lament that a railfan or a daisy picker got into an otherwise pristine image of an oncoming train. I’ve griped about that myself at times.

Although I never considered myself a photojournalist per se, I did engage in the practice during my early years in the newspaper industry.

At small town newspapers you need to make photographs as well as conduct interviews and write stories.

News organizations spend a lot of time writing about the behavior of organizations. They also report a lot of staid news about people in organizations, much of it focusing on such things as the work history of someone who was just named to a position such as vice president.

That information can be contrived and lacking a sense of authenticity even if it is rooted in reality.

But it’s the moments when people are captured acting naturally that most excites photojournalists. To capture those moments on film or megapixels takes practice, some training, and patience. In time it becomes something that you just do.

John Gruber is not the only railroad photographer who took a journalistic mindset into his work and he probably wasn’t the first.

But it became his trademark or brand to use a current buzzword.

His first photograph published in Trains featured shivering railfans photographing an excursion on the North Shore interurban line at Northbrook, Illinois, in February 1960.

That led to a friendship with legendary Trains editor David P. Morgan, who published many of Gruber’s photographs. The two would go on to become traveling companions.

Keefe wrote that Morgan would later say about Gruber that he was always “on top of the action, however unexpected and regardless of the hour. His pictures tell it like it was.”

Gruber never worked as a newspaper man, opting instead to take a job in publications and public relations at the University of Wisconsin, a position he held for 35 years.

But you don’t have to be a professional journalist to understand and practice the principles of photojournalism.

Aside from his work for the university, Gruber was an editor of the Gazette of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

In 1995 he began editing Vintage Rails, a magazine about railroad history and culture published by Pentrex.

After Pentrex shut that publication down four years later, Gruber moved on to organize the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, which has its own magazine and hosts an annual conference known as “Conversations.”

“I had become curious about railroad photographers — who they were, their backgrounds, their ideas about photography,” Gruber said of why he created the organization.

Other than magazine articles, Gruber wrote or co-wrote a number of books, including Travel by Train: The American Railroad Poster, 1870-1950 (with Michael Zega); Classic Steam; and Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography

In 1994, the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society presented Gruber its Senior Achievement Award.

You sometimes hear railroad photographers describe one of their images as having been inspired by a well-known photographer such as Philip R. Hastings, Richard Steinheimer, David Plowden or Jim Shaughnessy.

None of the images presented above were inspired by John Gruber as such. But I’d like to think that he’d appreciate them and understand why I made them.

They were all made on the same day on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and none were planned. They were just moments I saw and was nimble enough to capture. More often than not instinct takes over when these opportunities present themselves.

The top image was made at Boston Mill before a photo runby featuring Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765.

I don’t know who that boy is. He might be the son of the engineer or another members of the locomotive crew. But this experience is one he will never forget and one that many children and even adults are not fortunate enough to have.

The middle image was a grab shot of a passenger sitting in one of the open-window cars in the steam excursion. I did intend to make images of passengers watching out those windows, but you don’t know what you will get.

This guy’s demeanor captures the joy of riding an excursion, particularly one behind a big steam locomotive.

The bottom image was made at Botzum station of a CVSR engineer working the northbound National Park Scenic.

It’s one of those countless moments that unfold on the CVSR or any other passenger railroad every day. And yet it tells a story, even if only a small one, of life on the railroad.

I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to Gruber than to post the type of images he devoted his life to making.

Legendary Photographer Shaughnessy Dies at Age 84

August 9, 2018

Acclaimed railroad photographer Jim Shaughnessy died this week at age 84 after a long illness.

Mr. Shaughnessy was a prolific photographer whose collection includes about 100,000 negatives of which thousands were published in books and magazines.

Several of his photographs were included in fine-art collections. His photos appeared on the cover of Trains magazine 13 times and his work regularly appears in Classic Trains magazine.

In a tribute that was posted to the Trains website, former Trains editor-in-chief Kevin Keefe described Mr. Shaughnessy as a pioneer who revolutionized railroad photography in the post World War II decade by shifting the focus of photographs from locomotives to the entire railroad environment.

Keefe called Mr. Shaughnessy one of the deans of the field whose powerful images from the steam-to-diesel era of the 1950s and 1960s placed him among the “big three” of railroad photographers, the other two being the late Philip R. Hastings and the late Richard Steinheimer.

“[Mr.] Shaughnessy was a fearless artist who got in and around railroading as few others did,” Keefe wrote. “He was an important figure in the shift away from simple train pictures toward depictions of the entire railroad environment.”

Speaking to Trains, Jeff Brouws, who wrote a profile of Mr. Shaughnessy for the 2008 book The Call of Trains, described him as a pioneer and door-opener.

“Jim sought to contextualize the engines and trains he loved into a broader framework that spoke less about hardware and more about their role in everyday life,” Brouws said. “His widespread acclaim deservedly conferred upon him the title of master photographer.”

Mr. Shaugnessy was by profession a professional engineer and he began making railroad photographs during his youth around his hometown of Troy, New York.

His favorite subject in Troy was the city’s union station, which served the New York Central, Boston & Maine, and Delaware & Hudson.

The D&H was one of Mr. Shaughnessy’s favorite railroads and he would later write a book about it that was published by Howell-North Books.

Mr. Shaughnessy eventually began photographing railroad operations in northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

His first photograph in Trains featured a view of the Mount Washington Cog Railway near Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and was published in May 1952.

Eventually Mr. Shaughnessy also traveled to photograph trains in southern Ontario, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

Keefe said the editors of Trains knew that Mr. Shaughnessy could be counted on to produce images that were beautifully composed and technically flawless

“He was a master of the action photograph, taken in all manner of inclement weather, but he was also made frequent night photographs and depictions of railroaders at work,” Keefe wrote.

Mr. Shaugnessy was honored by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1987 with its Fred A. and Jane R. Stindt Photography Award.

A book of Mr. Shaugnessy’s photographs, Jim Shaughnessy: Essential Witness, was published in 2017 by Thames & Hudson.

Are Today’s Master Photographers Legendary Photographers?

August 9, 2018

I never met Jim Shaughnessy and know relatively little about his life and work other than I’ve seen his photographs published countless enough times for it to have created a sense of familiarity.

His death this week at age 84 and the tributes that have followed have led me to wonder if there ever will be another class of giants whose work is larger than life and takes on legendary status.

In a tribute posted on the Trains magazine website, Kevin Keefe, himself something of a legend in railfan publication circles, described Mr. Shaughnessy as among the “big three” of railroad photographers.

The other two were Richard Steinheimer and Philip R. Hastings. They are all deceased now and I wonder if any current active railroad photographer will someday be remembered in the same terms as these men.

A larger question is what makes a master photographer. There have been and continue to be many photographers whose work makes them masters.

They are masters because their technical and artistic skills set them apart from weekend amateurs or even the merely good.

They became known for their focus on environmental images as opposed to the roster shot style of images that were popular when they picked up their cameras in the post World War II era.

And they made their mark during the era when steam locomotive power was giving way to diesels.

“Yes, the diesel was more predictable and it quietly went about its business,” Mr. Shaughnessy once said. “It presented a different kind of visual challenge. But this was a transition era. It would only happen once. I was glad to be there for it.”

Railroading in the 21st century seems in so many ways less interesting than it was when master photographers as Jim Shaughnessy were in their prime.

There are far fewer passenger trains, far fewer railroad companies with their unique identities, and far less railroad infrastructure.

There are still compelling scenes to be captured because the geography of the United States has not changed.

But we can’t control in what times we live. We can only control what we do during those times and how we work with what we have.

Mr. Shaughnessy’s reputation was largely built on his work appearing in Trains magazine. It was this association that made him a legend.

It occurred during a time when railfan magazines, books and railroad clubs formal and informal were the primary ways of viewing photographs of railroad operations.

The editors of those books and magazines served as gatekeepers who determined whose work would be seen and how often.

Those gatekeepers themselves had larger than life status. Think David P. Morgan.

The coming of the Internet changed that. Now anyone can create a Flickr account or join a chat list and post their photographs.

A lot of mediocre and downright bad photography is getting posted and it amazes me how often the mere average or even sub-average is proclaimed as “good” or “very good” by some.

There is, of course, much good and excellent work also being posted online.

There are photographers today whose work is the technical and creative equal of that of Shaughnessy, Steinheimer and Hastings. But the “fame” of that work seems more fleeting due to the nature of the online world.

The curators of the online world are largely invisible and thus have far less known influence in legend making as men such as Morgan or Keefe. Hence, there is lack of well-known gatekeepers who have the ability and influence to anoint today’s masters as legends.

Books and magazine seem to enshrine a photograph in ways that websites cannot.

But even in the paper publishing world, quantity has swamped quality. Companies such as Morning Sun have flooded the market with books of railroad photographs, thus watering down the ability of the medium to elevate legends.

It may be that the stature accorded to the likes of the “big three” is an artificial construct created by magazine editors whose influence may not be what it seems, the reputation of David Morgan notwithstanding.

Whenever I read tributes to legendary photographers I’m struck by the dedication that they paid to their work and craft. Those attributes still exist among many photographers today.

At the same time, they actively sought to get their work published and it was that endeavor that as much as anything made their reputations as legends.

You can’t become a legend if few people are familiar with your work, particularly key people who can ensure that your work is seen by a large audience. The online world has made it easier to view the work of more photographers, but in doing that something has been lost.

When today’s “legends” pass from this world, will their work be lauded in obituaries in the same manner as that of Jim Shaughnessy? There will be efforts to do that, yet I doubt that it will have the same impact.

Maybe It Was All About the Pursuit of Perfection

April 8, 2016

I was killing time at the Lakeland train show a few weeks ago when I picked up an issue of Trains magazine from the 1990s to leaf through.

Catching my attention was a letter to the editor pertaining to an article published in the September 1995 issue about the man who shot perfect photographs.

I dug through the pile of magazines and found the article in question because I was curious who it was and what made his photographs “perfect.”

On Photography Logo-xThe photographer was the late Robert O. Hale and the article author was Richard Steinheimer, who some might say also made “perfect” photographs.

Hale worked in the western United States, particularly California, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Steinheimer wrote that he first encountered Hale’s work in Trains around 1950.

For those who liked Hale’s work, Steinheimer wrote, he was a “superman of rail photography.”

According to Steinheimer, all of Hale’s images were properly filtered and cropped, and he had an “independent personal style.”

However, the article never explained what constitutes a perfect photograph and how and why Hale’s work fit that description.

Terms such as “perfect” and “perfection” might seem to have a definitive meaning, but wind up being rather nebulous because of the casual and careless manner in which they are used.

What constitutes “perfect” has caused me some anguish over the years, particularly when I was grading essay exams written by college students.

I was loath to award the maximum point value for an essay, usually 50 or 100 points, because the maximum score meant that the answer was “perfect.”

“Perfect” meant nothing more could have been done to improve upon the response.

If more could have been said or it what was said could have been presented in a more skillful manner, then the response was not perfect because it was flawed.

That, though, raised the question of how a mere mortal could determine that a performance was without any flaws.

I eventually came around to thinking that “perfection” when it came to college student essays is context-specific.

My standard became that the student did the best that an undergraduate could reasonably be expected to do given how much time he or she had to answer the question.

That is still a tough standard to judge, but I’ve found it easier to deal with than a rule that to be perfect something has to be without any flaws.

The letter to the editor about the Steinheimer article on Hale’s photographs asserted that the latter’s work was very good and some of it was unique, but it was not perfect.

The letter writer also failed to define what is meant by “perfect,” but after looking at some of the photographs that illustrated Steinheimer’s piece, the letter writer probably had in mind the fact that some of Hale’s images of steam locomotives did not show the entire locomotive.

Whether Hale made perfect photographs or not, his story was interesting and quite reflective of the era in which he worked.

He might make just one or two photographs a day and had a rather laid-back attitude toward his work.

He didn’t spend endless hours waiting for a train. Either the train he wanted to photograph came or it didn’t.

Hale’s day did not begin early. He often would visit with railroad block operators, finding out during those chats what was coming.

Then he would make a plan to photograph trains at a specific location. Hale was not one to engage in “death marches” to reach distant and rugged locales, but he did like to get out into the countryside.

Steinheimer wrote that when Hale had a vision for a particular image, he stayed with it until he had captured just the right train in just the right light with just the right clarity.

It probably was that quality that prompted Steinheimer to conclude that Hale made perfect photographs.

Hale honed his photographic skill during his U.S. Navy service. Steinheimer noted that Hale had worked long and hard to perfect his technique of making images of landing aircraft.

That level of development led Steinheimer to observe that not all great talent appears spontaneously. It must be developed, even by those who possess much natural talent.

I still don’t know what constitutes a perfect photograph or whether Hale made such images. What seems clear, though, from Steinheimer’s article is that Hale practiced the pursuit of perfection.

Hale mastered the little things that work together to make images that evoke an emotional response from a viewer by capturing a strong sense of time and place. Today, we call this “nailing it.”

One of his strengths was his ability to visualize an image and then have the patience to try multiple times if necessary to attain it.

He was a student of the craft. That didn’t make him unique, but it did elevate him to the upper echelon of his peers.

We should all feel that we’ve accomplished a great deal if someone can someday say that about any of us whether we did or did not make perfect photographs.

On Photography: Remembering One of Indiana’s Most Prolific Railroad Photographers, Ron Stuckey

May 2, 2015

I only met Ron Stuckey a couple of times. Even then it was just a passing introduction.

We never had a conversation, never really knew each other.

And yet Ron was instrumental in making possible my first two railroad history books because both contained photographs that he had taken.

Ronald Stuckey

Ronald Stuckey

I just learned recently that Ronald Lynn Stuckey, 80, of Indianapolis died back on Feb. 17.

I had received an email message from a friend in Indiana that he had entered hospice care.

Although I didn’t really know him, I was still saddened by the news of his passing.

At the same time his story is one of inspiration.

He was one of those guys who got out often with a camera to record the railroads of Indiana.

Unlike so many photographers who went trackside in the twilight of the steam era, Ron never put his camera away.

Until the final months of his life, he continued to get out with friends to make photographs, recording his last images last fall. We can all hope to be as active as Ron was during the final years of his life.

He was born on Oct. 1, 1934, in Indianapolis, where he apparently lived his entire life.

His obituary said that he was an avid fan of streetcars and interurbans and had attended all 31Hoosier Traction Meets.

He also was an active member of the Railfans of Indianapolis, a group founded in 1937.

Ron served as editor of the group’s newsletter, Railfan Rambles, for many years.

The group continues to hold its monthly meetings at Ron’s church, St Andrews United Methodist Church.

It was there that I last saw Ron. It was July 2011 and I presented a program to the RFI on the railroads of Northeast Ohio.

I was hoping that an RFI member could come to Akron to present to the Akron Railroad Club, but that has yet to get worked out.

During his lifetime, Ron saw and photographed a lot of history being made.

He was there on June 30, 1950, when the Southern Railway’s last passenger train across Southern Indiana made its final trips, still steam powered.

Although Ron gave me permission to use his photographs in my book Limiteds, Locals and Expresses in Indiana, 1838-1971, and Amtrak in the Heartland, I actually obtained copied of the images from Ron’s friend John Fuller of Terre Haute, Ind.

John had acquired much of Ron’s collection at some point.

Writing in the May 2015 issue of Railfan Rambles, Martin Biemer paid tribute to Ron by recalling some of the many adventures that they had had.

Those began in the early 1950s when they were in high school and would ride a car of the Indianapolis Railways to attend RFI meetings.

They could ride all day for $1 and used the system to go railfanning.

Club president Herschel Van Sickle would take the club’s newest members on weekend outings

along abandoned interurban lines.

Ron was the first in the group to have a car so he organized excursions to railroad attractions.

“I especially remember a trip to the New York Central’s Shelby Street Roundhouse on a very quiet weekend; we saw no action,” Biemer wrote.

“And there was a cold-weather trip to trace part of the old Indianapolis and Southeastern right-of-way as it headed east of Arlington Avenue.”

Biemer described Ron as “the most intense railfan of us all, and certainly the most eccentric. He took quite a bit of ribbing over his many photos of box cars.”

A posting on Trainorders.com, noted that Ron had a particular fondness for the traction era in Indiana and he sought to document as much of it as he could.

The poster noted that many of Ron’s photographs of long-gone railroad structures have been published in numerous books and appear on various websites.

Ron was quite a fan of steam and, according the poster, would mutter “it’s just a diesel” when one of those approached. But that didn’t stop him from photographing them.

Sometime last fall, Ron developed esophageal cancer. He realized he could no longer live in his home and he moved into hospice care.

The RFI group paid tribute to Ron during its March meeting by watching a program he assembled years earlier on the Illinois Terminal.

The show, put together by Jeff Griner, featured some of Ron’s photographs including the last digital images that he made last fall. Those were still on the memory card of his camera when he died.

After services held on Feb. 21 in Indianapolis, Ron was laid to rest at Goodwill Cemetery in  Loogootee in the southern region of the state and near the St. Louis line of the Baltimore & Ohio.

He is survived by two daughters, Susan Elizabeth Archer of West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Teresa Lynn Koebke of Colmeneil, Texas; along with three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Article by Craig Sanders