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!):
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.
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!
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.
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
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!