It is with great pleasure and some real satisfaction that I am announcing a new photographic exhibit, Where Steam Moved Mountains, in the main lobby of the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) in Old Town Sacramento. The show is up now and will run through Jan 4, 2009. The show has some 55 images about 2/3 of which have not been seen by the public before.
When we first planned the show I was expecting that my book, to have the same title, would have already been out for six months, but that didn't happen. In fact it still feels like it is six months away, this despite the fact that a great deal has been done on it and only a small amount of work remains. In fact most of what is left is dependent on others to furnish promised but not yet delivered materials. Come on you guys.
I have received photographic prints, negative scans or negatives on load from; Vic Reyna, Ted Benson, the Utah State Historical Society, the California State Railroad Museum, J. Brent MacGregor, Keith Ardinger, Richard Leonard, Richard Steinheimer (Shirley Burham) and the Library of Congress.
Many new photos were done for the book and to a large extent they were made to document and illustrate things about the book's subject, the Nevada Northern Railway which, for those of you who don't know, is today an operating railroad museum. In the past my photography has been about creating one off pieces that could stand alone as single works of art. Now these new images were done with a more journalistic intent, but I stuck with the same standards and techniques, I don't know how to do anything less, and guess what, many of them work just as well as fine art images. In fact, working to illustrate the subject of the book forced me to take a deeper look things and the deeper you look the more you find to photograph.
I once heard that fine art photographers raise their images like children and it's kind of true. There is the moment of conception, then giving birth to the image when the negative is developed, then the proof print when you start to see how it will turn out in the end, then you spend some time with it to polish it and perfect it making that perfectly crafted print and it has reached maturity. Finally you do a larger print, frame it and hang it on the wall, now it's in the prime of life, it has reached full flower.
Well, this new work, with a few exceptions, hadn't been to the final stage, but as I began to frame the pieces, I hung them on the wall so that I could live with them for a few days before they shipped. Damn if they didn't look good. I think that I can say that this is my strongest body of work yet.
These images are all silver gelatin prints, but I have been moving toward digital, how far that will go I don't yet know. I now have Photoshop CS3 and a new little Canon G9. The later has 12.1 mega-pixels, camera RAW, anti-shake and a lot of professional features. The photos from it can be very sharp, given a little unsharp masking in CS3 and they compare favorably with what I can get in 4x5. Of course, it's not a view camera and can't do the precise compositions that the view camera can, nothing that you hold in your hand can do that. Then there is the latitude of digital capture. Tri- X just has so much more. So the view camera and Speed Graphics are not going to be retired anytime soon. But the G9, it fits in your pocket and just maybe you can get something you would have otherwise missed.
A nice feature of the G9 is its video function. Two weeks ago I was on my annual weekend with friends in Santa Cruz, a barbeque and train porn (railroad videos, in this case my video of the C&TS triple headed rotary operation in 1993), a diesel cab ride from Felton to the Boardwalk and the highlight of the weekend, a Cab Ride in Shay #1 the Dixiana . Check out the link for a three + minute video. I stitched it together using Apple Quick Time Pro. Warning this three + minute, 24 mega-bite video may take awhile to download.
As for CS3, I've had it for about nine months now and am still learning all its features. Curves is probably the most important feature not available in Photoshop Elements, that plus the ability to work with 16 bitt files. With 16 bitt you can make major adjustments in curves without the image posterizing. You do, after all, have 256 squared shades of gray.
I found that an image, which on the histogram appears to have a full tonal scale, can actually looks rather flat. But by applying a response curve like a traditional black and white emulsion, that is with a toe and shoulder, we get an effect much more like a traditional silver print. The shadows are darkened, without loss of detail, enhancing their graphic quality. The highlights are similarly effected. The mid-tones, meanwhile, have their contrast expanded. And you thought that the toe and shoulder of typical silver emulsions were a problem. Now we see that they have actually been our old friends all along.
Another feature that I like is the ability to selectively modify different parts of the image. This proved particularly useful with the snow scenes with the steamers. A black locomotive under an overcast sky in the snow presents an almost impossible combination of contrasts to work with in the darkroom. But in Photoshop, after scanning the negative, plus a bit of work, you can get excellent results.
Another trick in Photoshop is perspective correction. You can do this to a limited extent in the darkroom, but in Photoshop it's easy, especially if the corrections are minor. It really enhances the photo and makes it seem like you are there, not just looking at image on a piece of paper. I have applied this to almost all the historic images to be used in the book. Still, I prefer to do this in camera with the view camera.
Repairs to flaws in the negative are much easier, the heal tool corrects dust spots and scratches while the patch tool allows larger flaws and even unwanted things in the image to be removed. Have a blank wedge in the corner of the image that you did some perspective correction on? Cut and paste and the patch tool allow you to fill it in.
I've had several historic images with unevenly developed skies. Select the sky area, replace it with the paint brush tool, then add a gradient so it darkens towards the zenith and slightly towards the edges and you have a smooth grainless sky that is more dramatic, it seems to hang over the subject, that the original. I had one photo where the ballast in the foreground was so blocked up in the scan I received, that I couldn't get anything but paper white in the print. What to do, barrow some ballast from another photo, select, patch, paste and blend it in.
I found that prints made from scans of my original prints were not as sharp. What happened, I don't know. But with a 50 megabite 16 bitt tiff file, I could apply a slight unsharp masking and get a print that actually had higher accutance than the original. It some cases it can actually save an image that was not entirely in focus on the negative. Of course these are just a few of the many things that you can do in Photoshop.
After delivering the show, the museum hung it, then I got a call from Traci Rockefeller Cusack, the museum's publicist. She had put out press releases for the show and KAMX Channel 31 wanted to do a piece for their Good Day Sacramento show. I had to be there at the museum at a quarter to seven in the morning. But we did the show live. You can see all three minutes at the link: KAMX Channel 31 , Good Day Sacramento, 7:00am July 18, 2008 They called me the Ansel Adams of Industrial Photography, I like that.
In other news, a selection of my steam locomotive running gear photographs, along with a short artist statement, was included in Railroads across North America, by Claude Wiatrowski, as published by Voyager Press. Kalmbach Publishing is going to put out a special issue of Trains Magazine, Trains 100 Best Photographs. My photo Eccentric Crank, S.P.4449 which appeared in the September, 1985 issue will be included.
In honor of the Nevada Northern receiving National Historic Landmark Status, the magazine Common Ground published an article on the railroad titled Last Stop, An Apparition of Steam Finds New Life in the Nevada Desert by Joe Flanagan. To illustrate the article, they used 17 of my photographs.
Common Ground is an award-winning magazine from the National Park Service, it offers an in-depth look at the nationwide effort to preserve our heritage in all its forms. A free subscription and back issues can be obtained from their webste http://commonground.cr.nps.gov/
In other news, last October there was a B-17g, the Liberty Bell, on tour, it made a stop in Hayward and I paid to get a flight on it (not cheep). I wanted to do some photos for my Vintage Aircraft series so inquired about how long it would be in Hayward after its weekend display. I was dirrected to the planes executive director who told me "We're flying out at 9:00 am Monday" (To Fresno). "Oh shit" I thought, but then he said "Do you want to come along?" There is a certain two letter word that was just not in my vocabulary that afternoon. I've been intending to do a newsletter about that flight ever since and still plan on it, so I'll save the rest of that story for later, I've included one photo below.
On this past Memorial Day weekend the Pacific Locomotive Association and the Golden Gate Railroad Museum put on the first public operation of former S.P. 2472 on the Niles Canyon Railway. After a lengthy FRA Form 4 overhaul, this is the first time the locomotive has made a public run in a number years. She is truly a beautiful locomotive and she put on a great performance. I photographed her with both the Speed Graphic and the Canon G9. As of this writing the Speed Graphic negatives have not been developed, but my favorite of the G9 photos is shown below.
On the Nevada Northern, both #40 and #93 were found to have cracked driving axles and the axles were condemned sidelining the locomotives. 93's troubles were already well known, but #40 being put out of service came as a shock. Well there is something to be gained from all of this. 93 has been in pieces, some of which I have photographed, but she is now coming back together. As I write this, her running gear is back together less the driving wheels and rods. This is the perfect time to photograph the frame, springs and equalizing levers and I'm going to Ely to do just that. I had wanted to have photographs of this for my book but I didn't think that I would get the chance. But delays in completing the book plus troubles with the locomotive will mean that I can chronicle this very interesting, but usually not seen, part of steam locomotive technology.
A preview of coming attractions, a flight on B-17g the "Liberty Bell"
Memorial Day weekend on the Niles Canyon Railway with S.P. 2472 as photographed with the Canon G9.
Visit my website at www.ihpworkshops.com.