It was April 26, 1984 when my brother and I embarked on big tour of the New York City Subway in Queens and Brooklyn.
I made this view from the front of an outbound train on the Astoria Line. On the middle track was an RR train heading toward Queens Plaza and beyond. This was during the era when the subway was still covered in grafitti.
Using my Leica 3A, I made this view from a NYCTA city bus in The Bronx circa 1980.
I don’t have any notes at all from this trip.
In all likelihood, I was using a 35mm Nikkor lens with a screw-mount designed for the Leica 3 series cameras. This was a favorite of mine at the time because it required an adjustable external viewfinder that made it easier to compose than the tiny window on the camera body.
The primary subject of the photo was the subway train on what I think was the White Plains Road elevated line. At right is my brother Sean. We were traveling with our grandmother from Fordham Road toward Co-op City as part of a shopping trip.
This photo has been quietly hiding, unprinted and unseen in a glassine negative sleeve for nearly 40 years! (Try that with your favorite phone photo.)
It was about 1980, when I made this interior view of an R10 subway car during a trip with my father around New York City. Pop thinks this was on the 8th Avenue line in Manhattan. It was one of three photos I made of the Subway that day .
The cars were not air-conditioned and the open fans intrigued me.
This was in that unsavory era on the Subway when the subway cars were decorated inside and out with graffiti.
Exposed on black & white film with my old Leica 3A 35mm camera.
Two weeks ago when in Dublin, I went to see the motion picture Joker, a dark film in a fictional New York City setting of the early 1980s, portrayed in classic DC Comics fashion as ‘Gotham’.
Story-line and characters aside, the film’s scenes, setting and lighting recreated New York City, especially the Bronx, as I remember it from visits with my grandparents in the 1970s and 1980s. Portions of the Joker were filmed in my father’s old neighborhood. My memories were of that stark gritty dark time when graffiti covered subway cars were the norm.
Since arriving back in the USA, I’ve delved into my collection of early photos from New York City, some of which embody that fascinating apocalyptic darkness conveyed in the film, yet were merely the products of exploration of New York with my family.
However, where the film portrayed misery, mental illness, anger and extreme violence in brilliantly crafted cinema-graphic excellence, my photos were the product of child’s view to capture an exciting, albeit dark place, filled with urban wonders, railways, and visually captivating scenes.
Some of my early NYC photos were exposed on color slide film, others were on black & white. Almost all were made with my vintage 1930s Leica 3A.
These views were exposed on a very gray day in 1981, when exploring the former New Haven Railroad lines in the Bronx, my dad drove my brother and me to the NYCTA’s Westchester Yards off the Pelham Bay Line.
This was on the flight path to Laguardia Airport, and as I photographed the subway trains, my brother spotted the planes landing.
Earlier this month, I traveled with some friends to Shannonbridge, County Offaly, Ireland to photograph the Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge operations.
Working with Kodak Tri-X in a Nikon F3 with 105mm lens, I made this view of a laden train crossing the River Shannon.
I processed the film using a twin-stage (split development) process: presoaked in Kodak HC110 mixed 1-200 for 5 minutes; then Ilford ID1 mixed 1 to 1 for 7 minutes 15 seconds at 68F with gentle agitation every minute for 10 seconds. After stop bath (30 seconds), twin fixer baths of 3 minutes each and extensive rinsing, I toned the still wet negative using a Selenium batch mixed 1-9 for 8 minutes 30 seconds.
In addition to this traditional black & white photo, I also exposed digital photos using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 cameras. Color and black & white, film and digital, yes I have most of formats covered.
Back in October 1984—35 years ago— I made this nocturnal view of Central Vermont RS11 3606 at the Palmer, Massachusetts yard.
With my Leica mounted on a tripod, I exposed this view using a mix of existing light and electronic strobe for fill light. I’d work with a large Metz flash that allowed me to control the quantity of light being emitted. To soften the blast, I’d squelch the emission to about 1/4th and wrap the flash head in a white trash bag. I’d then make a series of blasts from different angles while leaving the shutter open.
My old Leica 3A had a ‘T’ setting that would leave the shutter open indefinitely. An exposure such as this would require about 30 secs to a minute for me to make the blasts.
This was one of at least four frames that I exposed that October evening so long ago! My notes from the day have vanished, much to my disgust, as I tended to keep records of all my photography.
I was sifting through some old 120 black & white negatives yesterday and found these photographs from a morning’s photography along the old New Haven Railroad in Connecticut from June 1986.
I started the morning in South Norwalk, then moved down to Westport.
Most of the photos from the morning were exposed on Kodachrome slide film, but I made a few select images on Kodak Tri-X using my father’s Rolleiflex Model T using a 645-size ‘superslide’ insert to obtain a rectangular crop.
Most interesting to me now are the views of Amtrak’s eastward mail train behind AEM-7 904. This carried a group of baggage cars at the back including some from VIA Rail.
While I have detailed photographic notes from the day, what I don’t have recorded were my thoughts on the experience at the time. This was one of several similar trips I made to former New Haven electrified territory in the summer of 1986.
During October’s Cobh Rambler tour, I made these views at Cork’s Kent Station on Kodak Tri-X black & white film.
The tour was operated by Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in conjunction with Irish Rail.
Kent’s curved Victorian train shed makes for a fascinating venue to photograph a modern railway in action, while the inclement weather on the day translated well with the traditional media.
I processed the film using a customized split development process consisting of Kodak HC110 presoak mixed 1-200 followed by primary development using Ilford ID11 1-1. The negatives were scanned using an Epsom V500 flatbed scanner with some minor final adjustment using Lightroom.
Last night I processed a roll of Rollei 80S Retro that I exposed last summer.
The timing was apropos.
I made these images using my Nikon F3 with f1.8 105mm lens. My cousin Stella was visiting from the West Coast and we were exploring spooky graveyards in Western Massachusetts.
You may wonder why I waited nearly four months to process the film. Was it an infusion of Irish spirits and pucas that lent inspiration?
No, it was actually simpler than that. My preferred developer for Rollei 80S Retro is Rodinal and in Dublin I keep a healthy volume of this antique solution on hand. So I brought the film with me from America for processing in Dublin. However, distractions and writing have kept me occupied for weeks and I just got to souping the film last night!
I have an adjusted recipe for this very unusual film that yields stunning results.
Rollei 80S Retro will provide superb tonality, super fine grain, and a deep rich black when processed properly.
I’ll be posting more view to my Instagram account over the coming hours and days. See my photos on Instagram at: briansolomon.author
Tracking the Light looks to the Dark Side Tonight!
I was driving from Madison, Wisconsin to Roanoke, Virginia on October 25, 2002.
I stopped at Cincinnati to make photographs of Fellheimer & Wagner’s art deco masterpiece: Cincinnati Union Station, a railway station inspired by Helsinki’s Main Station.
This was among the photos I made on Fuji Acros 100 using my Contax G2 rangefinder fitted with the super wide-angle flat-field 16mm Hologon. I featured this station in my book Depots, Stations & Terminals, published by Voyageur Press.
Last June, while working with the Conway Scenic Railroad I exposed this view of fresh green foliage at the Frankenstein Trestle on the line over New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch.
I was working with an antique Nikon FTN Nikkormat with a Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens.
I like the ‘fast’ 105 because it allows for very shallow depth of field at its widest aperture, while offering exceptional sharpness on the area of focus.
This effect is especially appealing as a contrast to many modern digital systems that offer razor sharp images with great depth of field in most circumstances. Focus, like other qualities, may be most effective when applied judiciously.
I exposed this image on Ilford HP5 400ISO 35mm black & white film. I hand processed the film. After a presoak with very dilute HC110 for about 5 minutes, I introduced my primary developer, Ilford ID11 developer mixed 1 to 1 with water, for 6 minutes and 15 seconds at 70F. By raising the temperature slightly and using a relatively dilute solution I controlled contrast while increasing shadow detail.
On March 16, 1986, I hiked west of milepost 84 on Conrail’s Boston & Albany route to photograph Amtrak train 448, the eastward Lake Shore Limited(Boston section).
This was just a few months before Conrail single tracked the line between Springfield and Palmer, Massachusetts.
I was keen to document the Boston & Albany’s line that passed through the northern reaches of my home town, Monson, Massachusetts, in the railroad’s traditional directional double track configuration.
This lone image is part of my much more extensive project to document the Boston & Albany route on film.
I exposed the photo on 120 roll film using my father’s Rollei Model T. In May 2019, I scanned the negatives using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner. For presentation here, I adjusted contrast and exposure using Lightroom.
On April 18, 1984, I was photographing Conrail’s Boston & Albany at Warren, Massachusetts, an activity that undoubtedly coincided to a visit with my friend Bob Buck at Tucker’s Hobbies.
Early in the afternoon, I caught a westward train with three (then new) SD50s rolling by the old Boston & Albany Warren station.
This was in double-track days, when Conrail still operated train in the current of traffic in accordance with rule 251 and the long established automatic block signals that protected movements on the line.
Cabooses were still the norm on through freights, but not for much longer. Within a few months caboose-less freights would become standard practice on the B&A route and across the Conrail system.
I made this view on Kodak 5060 safety film (Panatomic-X) using my 1930s-era Leica 3A with 50mm f2.0 Summitar lens. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using Kodak Microdol-X and then made the unfortunate choice of storing the negatives in a common paper envelope, which is where they remained until last week.
Panatomic-X. Now if there was one great black & white film, that was it. Slow as molasses, but really great film. It was rated at 32 ISO (or ASA as it was called in those days) and tended to result in some thin negatives, but it gave great tonality, fine grain, and scans very well.
I’m glad I have these negatives, ignored and stored inappropriately for all these years. If only there was still a Conrail, cabooses on the roll, and Bob Buck at Tucker’s Hobbies to tell you all about it!
Tracking the Light Posts Every Day!
Check out my selection of Conrail photos on Flicker at:
You might ask, ‘what does this have to do with railway photography?’
Nothing. And Everything.
Several years ago my concerns over the lack of long-term archival storage for my growing collection of railroad photographs (and those of my fellow photographers) led me to begin working with scientists at Creative Technology LLC, including my father Richard Jay Solomon, Clark Johnson Jr., and Eric Rosenthal, in order to find a means of preserving photography, especially digital photography, by using proven technologies.
This evolved into a much larger project aimed at preserving and storing all digital media using silver technology—similar to that used to make photographs.
NASA took an interest in Creative Technology’s concept and offered to send examples of Creative Technology’s storage media to the International Space Station to test its ability to withstand the rigors of the space environment.
Creative Technology test materials that I helped create were launched via a SpaceX Falcon heavy rocket on May 3, 2019 and docked at the International Space Station on May 6th.
This brings the Creative Technology concept closer to a commercial manifestation.
When the materials are returned in several months time, Creative Technology can further the analysis of the storage medium which hopefully will facilitate NASA’s application of this technology for long-term data storage among other applications.
Below is Creative Technology’s press release detailing the invention and its promise.
Tracking the Light Posts Every Day.
NASA International Space Station Will Test Innovative Data Storage System to Preserve Vital Human Records
Can data survive in space over extremely long times and multiple human generations? The possibility of human colonies on other planets may ultimately depend on just such data stability. Now, a patented innovative long-term archival data storage system created by a Delaware-based firm is being tested on the International Space Station (ISS) for up to a year.
The system developed by Creative Technology LLC (CTech) of Hockessin, DE, applies a century-old tested archival media for photography in a completely new way for storing high-density computer data in perpetuity. Inherently secure, low-cost technology is used that cannot be hacked or altered. CTech’s archival media can be used to store critical DNA and healthcare records, financial information and contracts, family photos and records which need to preserved for multiple human generations
NASA’s ISS test will determine if data on CTech’s media can survive a hostile space environment during long-term space missions, such as the mission to Mars and beyond. Today, conventional media, such as hard drives, magnetic tape, and solid state memory, are vulnerable to decay and bit rot due to gamma and cosmic rays and age deterioration.
CTech’s media is a green technology which can be stored for long periods in normal room environments without excessive energy for cooling or maintenance, opening up a new opportunity for storing secure data for extended periods of time without the need for energy.
CTech is a group of technologists with over 300 years collective experience in human perception, image capture & display, photosensitive media, data storage & compression, and video and telecomm applications and technology. CTech sponsors have included NSA, the Naval Research Lab, the Office of Naval Research, NASA, & DARPA.
All media used today have to be continually replicated and authenticated in order to be readable even in less than one human lifetime, and that process alone incurs new errors each time the data is copied. CTech avoids that problem, saving enormous labor and energy costs over long periods.
Thirty three years ago I made this view of a northward Central Vermont freight crossing Route 32 in South Monson.
(Historically CV had a ‘station’ in South Monson, and another at State Line and these were distinct locations in the railroad’s timetable.)
I exposed this black & white photo with my father’s Rollei Model T set up with a 645-size ‘super slide’ insert and loaded with Kodak Tri-X.
One of the challenges of working with the Rollei twin-lens reflex is that the view finder displays a mirror image. This made gauging when to release the shutter of the train especially difficult when it was rolling away, such as in this situation.
The result? I pressed the shutter release a split second sooner than I would have preferred. Of course I didn’t see the problem until after I processed the film
I scanned this negatives, along with others from the day last week using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner. I scaled the file for internet presentation and adjusted contrast in post-processing using Lightroom.
Northward Central Vermont freight South Monson, Massachusetts on May 16, 1986.
It was raining in Dublin, but clear and bright in Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford on 13 December 2003 when we visited to observe Irish Rail’s sugar beet operations.
Working with a Rollei Model T that I’d bought in San Francisco a few weeks earlier, I exposed a sequence of 120-size black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X of NI Railways 112 (on long-term loan to Irish Rail) that was shunting four-wheel sugar beet wagons for loading.
To obtain greater shadow detail and superior overall tonality, I rate the film at ISO 200 (one stop slower than the advertised 400 ISO) and processed it in a dilute bath of Ilfotec HC high-contrast developer.
For presentation here, I scanned the negatives last week using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner and then scaled/sized the TIFs for internet viewing.
You could make wall-size prints from the original negatives.
A visit to Irish Rail’s Carlow station on the shortest day of 2003, yielded some classic black & white photos, including these two views. The Cravens were working a scheduled service from Waterford to Dublin.
Working with a recently acquired Rollei Model T (the third such cameras I’d used over a 30 year span), I exposed a single roll of 120-size Fuji Neopan 400. The Rollei made a large square negative, which I really liked.
At the time my choice process for this film was using Agfa Rodinal Special (R09) at a ratio of 1 to 31 parts with water for about 3 mins 45 seconds. In this case I selenium toned the negatives for improved highlight detail.
Final presentation here included scanning using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner and some minor adjustments to contrast and cropping with Lightroom.
Monochrome; black & white; noir—what ever you like.
I made these views on an evening in late March at Porto’s Campanha Station using a Nikon F3 loaded with Fomapan 100 Classic film.
Negatives were processed using an dilute HC110 presoak (1-300 with water plus wetting agent) followed by ID11 1-1 69 F for 7 min 30 sec then following stop, fix and extended rinse, a final bath of selenium toner 1-0 for 7 min 30 sec and re-wash and final rinse in distilled water.
Working with a Nikon F3 with f1.4 50mm lens loaded with Fomapan 100 Classic, I exposed these portraits of some of the men working Railway Preservation Society’s 18 March 2019 trips from Dublin Connolly Station to Maynooth.
I processed the film in a non-standard way to obtain a period look while giving photos optimal tonality in a contrasty situations.
First: I pre-soaked film it in a very dilute bath of Kodak HC110 (measured 3 parts per 1000 with water, plus wetting agent) for about 7 minutes at 72 F;
Second: primary developer consisted of Ilford ID-11 1 to 1 with water at 69 F for 6 minutes;
Third: following stop bath, two fixer baths, and a thorough 10 minute rinse, I toned the negatives in a 1-9 selenium solution (outdoors to avoid breathing toxic fumes) for 8 minutes. This was followed by several rinse cycles and a final rinse in distilled water.
Negatives were scanned in colour to retain the selenium tint.