The millennium was coming to a close. I was just back in Ireland after a few months wandering. I arrived by ferry from Holyhead the night before.
The short days of winter offer moments of stunning low sun against what can often be a stark Irish environment.
It was the height of Irish Rail’s annual sugar beet campaign, so Denis McCabe and I headed first for Wexford (Wellingtonbridge to be specific) then worked our way west, finishing the day at Clonmel, County Tipperary.
Although, we come for the sugar beet, a side attraction were a pair of timber trains that were unloading there.
I was working with three cameras. One was a Nikon loaded with Ilford HP5. Ironically, most of those black & white photos have been squirreled away in my files for the last 16 years.
Here’s a sample of what I did that afternoon at Clonmel. Pretty neat in retrospect, however, what was more significant for me photographically was that this trip inspired a half-decade of intensive photographic adventures to document the sugar beet campaign.
I’ve always liked to make macro views of railways. Examining the texture, colors, and shape of the equipment, track and structures allows for better appreciation of the subject.
One of the best times to make close ups and detail photographs is under dramatic lighting; low sun or stormy light, where richer qualities make for more pleasing tones. Even the most mundane and ordinary subjects seem more interesting with great light.
Yet, detailed views can also make use of dull days when by focusing on texture and using extreme focus can compensate for flat lighting.
Irish Rail made for an especially good subject for detailed images, in part because there was so much antique equipment to photograph. Well-worn infrastructure is inherently fascinating. Here out in the open metal has been doing a job for decades and often it shows the scars from years of hard work, like an old weaver’s time weathered hands.
I’ve made hundreds of Irish Rail close-ups over the years. Here a just a few. Look around railways near you and see what you find! Sometimes the most interesting photographs can be made while waiting for trains.
In the damp evening gloom on July 18, 2003, Irish Rail’s signalman at Clonmel awaits the arrival of the Waterford-Limerick passenger train. He holds the metal staff that will authorize the train to proceed over the line to Tipperary.
Often the most telling railway images don’t emphasize a train. In this photo, the Irish Rail General Motors diesel and Cravens passenger carriages are incidental. Here: the evening light, poised signalman eying the approaching train and quiet rural station tell the story.
I exposed this photo on Fujichrome Sensia 100 using my Contax G2 rangefinder with 28mm Biogon lens on a Bogan tripod. It was part of a series of images I made that evening at Clonmel of the signalman, the station and passing trains.
During sugar beet season Irish Rail was tight for motive power, as the six to seven extra laden trains per day, plus returning empties, tended to tax the railway’s small locomotive fleet to its limits.
Beet season was always a good time to make photographs. During the 2004 season I was fortunate to catch surviving class 121 diesels several times working laden trains. The tuned ear could always pick out the sound of a 121 over the other classes.
On November 22, 2004, David Hegarty and I caught this mixed pair with 124 in the lead, hauling a laden beet train just passed Nicholastown Gates between Clonmel and Cahir, County Tipperary.
It was a hard pull up the bank from Clonmel to Nicholastown, and just east of the gates the line leveled out. We could hear the pair clattering away in run-8 for several minutes before they appeared. The gates were manually operated, and would be closed well ahead of the train.
The S-bend at Nicholastown was among our favorite locations on the line; I’ve made dozens of images here.
Exposed with a Nikon F3T with f2.8 180mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.