A beautiful new book highlighting the railroad photography of American photographer and train enthusiast David Plowden provoked a certain train of thought (sorry, I couldn’t resist!):

Requiem for steam : the railroad photographs of David Plowden

W. W. Norton, 2010

W. W. Norton, 2010

David Plowden’s photographs of the great days of the steam railroad in America strike me as existing in the same august company as that other great artist of the railways, O.Winston Link. The images of these massive engines are beautiful in their own right, but Plowden seems equally enamoured of the people connected to them as well as the landscapes and environments they inhabit. His pictures of railway offices, platforms and waiting-rooms frozen in the most beautiful moments, have that uncanny ability that only photographs really have of transporting you back to an era now almost entirely gone.

The railway : art in the age of steam by Ian Kennedy and Julian Treuherz

Yale University Press, et. al., 2008

Yale University Press, et. al., 2008

It seems like a particularly happy coincidence that railways arrived in the same century as two of the greatest developments in the history of art, namely Impressionism and photography. Many Impressionists such as Monet and Pissarro found inspiration in the railways, as did artists from other eras such as Turner and Hopper, not to mention the burgeoning number of photographers for whom the challenge of capturing motion seemed irresistible. This love-affair continued into the 20th century as trains assumed iconographic resonance as symbols of modernism, industrialisation and even momentum itself. And they’re all here in this gorgeously illustrated book; all aboard!

RAILROAD RHYTHMS – Classical Music About Trains

Hanssler Classics (via Naxos Music Online), 2006

Hanssler Classics (via Naxos Music Online), 2006

Of course it’s not just visual artists who have been inspired by the romance of the railroad. Classical and popular composer over the years have written a staggering number of musical homages to trains and train travel and this disc, available via the Naxos Music Library to registered users, includes Arthur Honegger’s terrific symphonic work Pacific 231, which really captures the energy and power of these remarkable machines.

 

Parallel tracks : the railroad and silent cinema by Lynne Kirby

Duke University Press 1997

Duke University Press 1997

Cinema has made great use of railroads over the years, from Buster Keaton’s wonderful silent film The General to any number of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, and beyond; Murder on the Orient Express anyone? One of my own favourites, Burt Lancaster in The Train, utterly gripping! I wonder if that makes me a gunzel?

 

O. Winston Link: trains that passed in the night : photographs, archive film and steam sound by O. Winston Link,  produced and directed by Paul Yule

Cinema Guild, 1990/2009

Cinema Guild, 1990/2009

Originally produced in 1990, this documentary features the great photographer himself revisiting the sites of many of his most iconic images. Link transformed the way this type of documentary photography operated, often working at night (“I can’t move the sun, and it’s always in the wrong place”) he and his assistants would lug massive amounts of equipment around the countryside in order to capture shots that still manage to take one’s breath away with their audacity and invention.

 

Something charming from our Picture Collection; oh, for a big backyard!

Miniature train Royal Melbourne Show

Miniature train Royal Melbourne Show

 

 

 

        

 

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Hello,The above “Trains” puts a beautiful feeling right through me. I spent a fantastic 35 years on steam and diesel locomotives as a Fireman/Locomotive Driver and later on as a Railway Administrator. The thrill of racing along on a steam locomotive on a moon lit night is something to behold. Despite the shift work and sometimes difficult locomotives I would do it all again. I followed in my Grandfathers footsteps, he was indeed a great Locomotive Engineman. The railway was a great family.Please continue to go “Railaxed”.
    Cheers, and thank you for Trains!!!!
    Russell

  2. Thanks Russell, I’m delighted that this post brought back lots of lovely memories for you; those were indeed the days!

  3. Hi there, I forgot to say thank you Dermot for this great site. More please.
    Cheers,
    Russell.

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