DAILY POST: Looking Back at Looking Ahead

 Predicting Change to Plan Photographic Strategy.

In late 1992, I recognized that Southern Pacific and its lightly used Modoc line were not long for the world. I knew then that I'd better act and get out there to make photographs before the Modoc went the way of Milwaukee Road's fabled Pacific Extension. I'm sorry to report, that I was correct. The tracks here at Crest, pictured in January 1993 were abandoned by Union Pacific after it took over SP.
In late 1992, I recognized that Southern Pacific and its lightly used Modoc line were not long for the world. I knew then that I’d better act and get out there to make photographs before the Modoc went the way of Milwaukee Road’s fabled Pacific Extension. I’m sorry to report, that I was correct. The tracks here at Crest, pictured in January 1993 were abandoned by Union Pacific after it took over SP.

When I was a kid, change puzzled me. I’d look back over my father’s photographs and collection of timetables and books and wonder what had happened to the trains and railroads he’d seen and experienced.

But as a young child, I’d assumed that all change was in the past. Certainly things had been different. New York Central had become Penn-Central, and Penn-Central had become Conrail. But I naively assumed that everything else would remain constant!

Then I began to notice change myself: My favorite GG1 electrics were replaced by modern AEM7s and E60s. Those old Penn-Central black diesels were become ever more scarce. Boston’s PCC cars had become fewer and fewer.

By the late-1980s, I’d witnessed enough changes to recognize that documenting the railroad required careful attention to detail, and it was important to anticipate change before it begins.

Too often, railroad photographers wait until change is already underway before they act to make photographs. Sadly, sometimes they wait too long and miss the best opportunities to photograph.

With this in mind, in the 1990s, annually I drafted lists from which to work. It’s one thing to ponder photographing time-worthy subjects; its better to have a clear and prioritized strategy!

In 1993, I was remarkably organized: I’ve included a portion of that year’s ‘photo projects’ list. If you read through this carefully, you’ll see there’s considerable foresight in my approach. I was doing my best to predict the future and act upon that knowledge.

Below are pages from that list:

I drafted this list in late December 1992. I was doing my best to predict change and plan my strategy to photograph railways before they were affected by change. Within a few years of this list, most of my predictions proved true, even if my efforts at putting dates on them  missed by a year or two. Those errors favored my photography and the early start gave me a time advantage. There's more than one lesson here.
I originally drafted this list in late December 1992 (up-dated to Jan 3, 1993). I was doing my best to predict change and plan my strategy to photograph railways before they were affected by change. Within a few years of this list, most of my predictions proved true, even if my efforts at putting dates on them missed by a year or two. Those errors favored my photography and they gave me a time advantage. There’s more than one lesson here.
Page 1 of my 1993 list. This is a scan of my actual list. It has survived along with my notes from 1993. Luckily I that the time and motivational energies (if not the adequate financial resources), to act on most of the subjects listed.
Page 2 of my 1993 list. These are a scans of my actual list. The pages survived the years along with my notes from 1993. Luckily, I had the time and motivational energies (if not the adequate financial resources), to act on most of the subjects listed.

I’m really glad I made these lists! We can look back today, 21 years after I wrote this list, and see that many of the subjects I hoped to document have indeed vanished or changed. The pen-marked ‘ticks’ indicated that I’d made an attempt at the item.

How did I draft this list? Did I have a crystal ball? How did I know in 1993 that SP was soon to vanish? Why did I give SP’s Modoc line high priority? What caused me to anticipate changes to Canadian Pacific east of Sherbrooke? Pay special attention to my notes and comments for the clues. In some cased my anticipated dates were premature, but my vision was pretty accurate (I’m sorry to report.)

What is on your list for 2014?

Change is on-going. Think! What can you photograph now that will soon change unrecognizably? Remember, it is the common everyday subjects that are too often ignored until it’s too late to make photographs. Don’t wait until the last minute. Keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the rail. Anticipate, plan and then act.

Any suggestions? I’m all eyes and ears.

Canadian National electrics at Val Royal, Montreal on Jan 11, 1993. Time was running out for these ancient machines. Tom Carver and I made special trip to photograph them despite exceptionally frosty conditions. Exposed on Fujichrome Velvia 50 slide film using a Nikon F3T.
Canadian National electrics at Val Royal, Montreal on Jan 11, 1993. Time was running out for these ancient machines. Tom Carver and I made special trip to photograph them despite exceptionally frosty conditions. Exposed on Fujichrome Velvia 50 slide film using a Nikon F3T.
Almost a month to the day after I photographed the electrics in Montreal, I was knee deep in snow on the far side of the continent to catch the first run of SP's rotary plows on Donner Pass in eight years. They worked for three days in February 1993. I'd anticipated their operation in my 1993 list, drafted two months earlier. Exposed with a Nikon F3T on Fujichrome 100 slide film.
A month  after I photographed the electrics in Montreal, I was knee-deep in snow on the far side of the continent to catch the first run of SP’s rotary plows on Donner Pass in eight years. They worked for three days in February 1993. I’d anticipated their operation in my 1993 list, drafted two months earlier. Exposed with a Nikon F3T on Fujichrome 100 slide film.

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