CSX Hopper Train, Keyser, West Virginia October 18 2002

Train with fog, West Virginia.
CSX westward hopper train approaches ‘Z’ Tower in Keyser, West Virginia.

This was the icon-image used to advertise my November 2008 Silver & Steel photographic exhibition. I’d exposed it six years earlier on a three-week autumnal photographic exercise that began in Vermont, and brought me as far west as Omaha. I returned east via Cincinnati, Roanoke and Washington D.C.

The photograph was among those made on the outward leg of the trip. I’d met some friends for a few days of photography on CSX’s Mountain Subdivision, the old Baltimore & Ohio ‘West End’—the original B&O mountain crossing. On the morning of October 18th, we found this westward empty hopper train working west through the fog covered Potomac River Valley. Getting ahead of the train, we exposed a sequence of images of it near ‘Z’ Tower at the west-end of Keyser Yard. The sun had begun to burn off the fog, some of which still clung to the river valley and surrounding hills making for a cosmic setting worthy of the old B&O.

Working in silhouette can be tricky; low light and fog helps. An image like this works when the main subject is clearly defined from the background. The ditch-lights on the leading locomotive are crucial to maintaining compositional balance both identifying a focal point and indicating action; without the lights the image takes on a completely different character.

I was working with my Nikon N90s and a Nikkor f2.8 180mm lens and Fujichrome Astia 100 film. Fuji introduced Astia in 1997, and supplied it concurrently with its Provia 100. Astia offered a slightly warmer color balance, and a rich black, remaking it an ideal medium for autumnal situations. Unfortunately, Astia was replaced with Astia 100F in 2003. While nominally sharper, I never found the Astia 100F as pleasing as the original Astia. Asked about this film choice, my friend Brian Jennison, once exclaimed, ‘Its nastia with Astia!’ Indeed it is!

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