Something Old, Something New; Dwarf Signal, Palmer, Massachusetts, October 1984

railway signal
The Rollei’s viewfinder allowed me to shoot from the hip. The combination of the low angle and softer contrast and muted color balance allowed me to get this alternative view of Palmer and unlike those I tended to produce with my old Leica 3A. Compare this image with the 2002 Polish branch line view displayed yesterday’s post; Polish Time Machine.

Trying something different: in October 1984, I was taking a course in photography as part of my studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. This involved an introduction to color printing. For this exercise I exposed a few rolls of 120 Kodak professional color negative film rated at 160 ISO. This material appears to have been designed for low-contrast imagery, such as portraiture, and so had a very different color palate than the 35mm Kodachrome slide film I was used to.

Using my father’s Rollei Model T, I made a series of railway images around Palmer, Massachusetts. I made prints for my class, then I filed the negatives along with my other work and promptly forgot about them. A couple of years ago, I rediscovered them while digging through the archives. Color negatives tend to be less robust than either slide film or black & white, and my negatives had suffered from a variety of light abrasions that would have made conventional printing problematic. Through the magic of digital technology, I was able to easily scan them and then touch up the scratches in Photoshop.

Among the more interesting photographs is this view of the dwarf signal at the Palmer diamond, back when Conrail’s Boston & Albany line was still equipped with directional double track and traditional multiple-tier code lines. It was a crisp clear October afternoon with a light breeze, and the trees were approaching their autumnal peak.


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