Prague Dawn.

In January 2009, Tim Doherty, Denis McCabe and I made photos at a suburban branch station called Praha-Ruzyne, situated west of Prague’s historic center and near the Vaclav Havel (international) Airport. A wire operated semaphore caught my interest.

This scene presents a lesson in composition. It was a visually interesting but stark environment to make photographs.

The Czech capital is a fascinating city with some of Europe’s finest architecture. Unfortunately, none of this is present at Praha-Ruzyne, which is characterized by urban development stemming from the country’s austere period of Soviet-influence.

I opted to work in silhouette and exposed this color slide for the highlight areas of the sky while allowing shadow areas to go black and be virtually free from distracting detail.

  Photograph made using a Canon EOS 3 with 100mm lens and Fujichrome slide film.

Photograph made using a Canon EOS 3 with 100mm lens and Fujichrome slide film.

My challenge was placing the semaphore mast and blade in a position that makes it most prominent. I’ve balanced the composition by putting this signal diagonally opposite from the diesel railcar at lower right. The red lights on the back of the railcar immediately attract the eye, while the semaphore draws it back again.

In the middle is a lone figure crossing the line which both adds a prominent human element that offers a sense of scale, while imposing a poetic element of; ‘man versus his environment’.

The trackage arrangement makes for a complex pattern that reflects the light of the morning sky . On the hill above the train is a large building that hints at the greater urbanity of the scene. Without it, the image might be mistaken for a photo of a rural village.

Two specially difficulties were the array of vertical lighting masts which distract from the semaphore, and the railing along the line that visually interferes with the trackage, but adds a layer of depth.

The trees in the distance beyond the tracks are slightly diffused by morning haze and contribute to sense of depth—an especially important element in this silhouetted view, which would otherwise be flattened by the minimalism imposed by my choice of exposure.

How might this image compare with one at the same location exposed on a bright summer afternoon?

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2 thoughts on “Prague Dawn.”

  1. So did you figure all this out in the field, or after you got home and studied the photo? Obviously there’s a lot to think about in making a good composition…

    1. A little of both. Making the photo, I was mostly concerned about making the semaphore prominent. When the passenger began to make its way across the tracks I recognized that as an important element. I was actively cursing all the other verticals.

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