Atmosphere of Place
For this module and the brief for Planning a Photography Project, I decided to choose to produce photographs of steam engines and stations along the East Lancs Railway which runs from Bury through to Rawtenstall. This is a charitable trust run by volunteers to keep steam trains and engines running along with older diesel engines.
To plan for this project, firstly I contacted the station office at Bury Station to ask if I could produce photographs of the engines and station from the platforms, this was granted for me to do within a set timescale and on specific days only to avoid busy days for the station so my tripod did not cause a trip hazard. When I first arrived at the station, I was given a tour and a briefing on best practice along with health & safety requirements to adhere to, along with an understanding of how the manual old signalling worked and their meanings. I had also enquired to the railway fabricators Riley & sons to see if I could gain access to the yard to produce photographs of steam trains under repair, but due to the Flying Scotsman being in the yard and under secret from press and public before its first appearance in ten years, this was denied to me.
To gain inspiration for the project I initially looked at photographs by O Winston Link, who produced grand scale production photographs of trains such as this famous image of a train passing a drive through cinema in 50’s America titled “Hotshot Inbound” His dramatic stage managed pictures are very similar in the way of production to Gregory Crewdson and his series of images “twilight” in that both photographers use large scale photography sets or locations and manage every aspect of the photograph to be produced through positioning of lighting, props, and of course the camera. All this has come together with this image to show a very dramatic image with a high tonal range and an appealing strong contrast between the deep blacks and bright whites on the photograph whilst managing to keep the detail from getting lost anywhere within the image.
Another Photographer I looked at to gain inspiration and knowledge of train photography was Otto Perry, who produced photographs again in the USA of steam and railroad photography. An image which particularly inspired me of his was this image from 1934 In The Great Depression. This photograph of an old American steam engine in my opinion gives off a sense of atmosphere and the past with the black & white colour scheme though very little contrast. The photograph from its composition helps to achieve this by being almost level with the tracks and showing the train from an angle to get a good perspective of the front and side of the train stretching back into the distance alongside the platform, this while the train gently idles ready to roar into life with just a gentle plume of smoke.
Whilst producing my own photographs and sharing them in group seminars and discussions, the first photographs which I produced for this module, I had added sepia toning to the images but with general consensus from both peers and tutors it was felt they would look more dynamic in black & white. After deliberation by myself I went back to the original photographs and re-edited them in light room to produce black & white photographs. Having done this I could see why this was suggested and felt they also improved the quality of the photographs and possibly added even more atmosphere to them. From this I decided that the whole set of photographs would be produced in this way as a mix of colour and black and white images does not make a cohesive body of work.
Keeping in mind the two photographers I have looked at before and during this assignment, I have kept them in mind on some photographs I have produced but at the same time I have felt I preferred to go in my own direction, rather than trying to imitate other photographers work, hopefully on some of the images I have managed to show that I have been at least influenced by both of them. Other times I have spent researching areas to shoot at along the railway line to be able to gain the best chance of producing a good image of a train moving, or viewing general photography of the area or trains to get the subject and thoughts of the atmosphere into my own mind before going out on a shoot.
To expand the subject matter of the project I did pay a visit to Carnforth station which was the setting for the iconic film “Brief Encounter” where although the station has been modernised over the years, you can still see the sweeping curve of the platform, and freely take photographs in the visitors centre based on the film. A few images from this visit are below, however after consideration, I decided to base the project just on the ELR line due to time constraints and the inclement weather the UK faced at the time which prevented me from visiting other areas due to road conditions being dangerous for travelling long distances in my own car along with my health problems making driving painful.
Along with shooting on my digital camera, I also used my own 35mm and the university’s hasselbad medium format film camera, these images came out ok though not of a quality I thought high enough to use for my final images on this project, I decided to keep just the digital images shot on my Nikon D7100 to allow the set to flow more naturally than using different formats and border sizes. I am including a couple of these here for comparison.
Later on in the year, the famous steam train “Flying Scotsman” had finished undergoing its major rebuilding at local train yard E. Riley & sons, and began using the ELR for testing. I was fortunate enough to catch these test runs on the line and get some photographs from them.
Initially I thought about doing a mixed set from the Scotsman and the normal trains on the line, but after deep thinking, I decided to produce a second body of work of nine images alongside the original one to compliment this. For these images I decided to use colour for the whole set to give a sense of vibrancy as the engines and the weather conditions suited this more.
When producing the photographs for this second set, the whole of the railway line was extremely busy with rail enthusiasts and local photographers out to get a glimpse of the famous engine on its return, this meant that space was limited along the whole of the track for getting photographs unless I managed to get there early, which I did to gain as good a vantage point as I could. Most of these were at Burrs country park which the line runs alongside after coming out of Bury, and is public space so that it was safe to park and stand as close to the line as I was, but also visiting Ramsbottom station and walking along the line near Irwell Vale and Summerseat Station.
Along with the Flying Scotsman, another engine was making a guest appearance on the line after being re-named at Bury Station, this was the “city of wells” which was running alongside the more famous train and I managed to gain a few shots of this as well, which are included in my final images.
In conclusion for this project, I feel that I have produced photographs to the best of my ability to both encapsulate the meaning of the brief and showing an atmosphere of yesteryear railway engines and the spirit shown by the volunteers who run the line to keep these machines alive. If I was to do this project again on the same subject then instead of having to produce the main body of work over the inclement late autumn and winter months, I would prefer to be able to do them in late spring and summer, both for the reason that the weather would be more suitable for the photography I wanted and also there would be more trains running on more regular days from the timetable.
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