Check out podcast Episode 17 ‘Conversations with Brian Solomon’: On a frosty day, I discuss the ins and outs of the freight car business with industry professional Dan Bigda. This offers an inside look into real freight railroading.
Dan has often asked me to make more photographs of freight cars when I’m out and about on the railroad, so here’s a few recent views of North American freight cars on the move exposed on frosty days during my January 2019 trip to Wisconsin.
It was autumn 1986. As a photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I’d receive an annual ‘care package’ of new, and sometimes experimental, Kodak products.
At the time I was a loyal Kodak film user, and dedicated to the careful exposure of Kodachrome 25. However, since I was on a shoe-string budget, I was happy to make use of the free roll of ‘Ektachrome du jour’—as we’d call whatever the latest flavor of Ektachrome was being peddled at the time.
Blessed with a rare bright day, and armed with my free roll of film, I wandered around Rochester documenting the railroads and the city. I had K25 in my Leica for the important photos, and loaded the free film into my roommate’s Canon A1 for experimental shots and comparison views.
A variation of this photo appeared in a Railway Age supplement some years ago.
Back in June 1996, I was following the old Rock Island mainline. As I recall, I didn’t find much moving, and the day wasn’t the brightest. Yet, at Iowa City I visited a bridge over the Iowa Interstate’s yard and made a handful of images.
I’ve always liked this photo because it offers an unusual view with a lot of railway interest. The gondola carrying steel bars and open-door Burlington Northern 50ft boxcar are the sort of ordinary everyday elements of American railroading, meat and potato freight cars, that rarely get feature-treatment in photographs.
It was also the best way to make use of a dull day. Would this photograph be more effective if the sun had been out?
Watching trains today, it seems that graffiti is omnipresent. Hardly a freight passes without heavily tagged cars in consist.
Railcar graffiti isn’t a recent phenomena. Traditional chalked tags have appeared on cars for generations. I recall photographing a tag that read ‘Edward Steichen knew’ back in the mid-1980s, and I first noticed spray-painted graffiti on the New York Subways in the 1970s.
Yet, the proliferation of large colorful spray-painted murals and haphazard spray tagging has only become widespread on mainline trains in the last couple of decades.
While freight cars are the most common canvases, I’ve see locomotives and passenger cars tagged as well.
Nor is the phenomena isolated to the United States. Train graffiti is a worldwide occurrence. I’ve photographed heavily tagged trains in Poland, Belgium, and (wouldn’t you guess?) Italy! (Among other places).
Almost every photographer I’ve met has an opinion on graffiti.
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