In October 2014, I photographed this old MBTA (Boston) PCC car at the Connecticut Trolley Museum at East Windsor, Connecticut.
Just a rusty old ruin; but the car and its Kenmore destination board, brought me back to the early 1970s when my family lived a few blocks from MBTA’s Riverside Line at Newton Centre.
This route had been the Boston & Albany Highlands Branch, and was converted to a trolley line in 1960.
As young child, I was permitted freedom to wander around the neighborhood. My fascination with railways naturally brought me to the trolley line.
One afternoon, I’d been watching the PCC’s coming and going in front of the old B&A station. I’d often traveled on the cars with my parents, and I understood how the system worked.
Taking a chance, I quietly boarded one of the cars through the back door. I rode to Kenmore Square, where I boarded another car and returned to Newton Centre. I might have been five at the time. More than 40 years passed before I told anyone of this adventure. 🙂
In March 1982, I exposed these photographs of MBTA Green Line PCCs taking the corner at Boston’s Cleveland Circle.
The relative proximity of three Green Line trolley routes at Cleveland Circle made this an ideal place to photograph streetcars since there was lots of trackage and variety of action.
The streetcars pictured had just finished their run and were turning into the storage/staging area at the end of Green Line’s ‘C’ route.
By this time MBTA’s old PCC cars were nearing the end of their regular service on Green Line routes, which made them an added attraction for me. The cars were tired and battered from decades of hard service yet soldiered on.
Today, it’s the period signs that make the photos interesting. Look at the ad for ‘Peoples Express’ on the back of one of the streetcars. Also, the cinema is advertising ‘Chariots of Fire’ among other films from 35 years ago.
I exposed these images on Ilford HP5 using my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar. Unfortunately, I processed the film in Kodak Microdol-X. This developer offered very fine grain, but at the expense of tonality. It was tricky to get the timing right, and in this case I left the film in the developer too long. The result is that negatives display excessive contrast and blocked up highlights.
Back in October, I made photos of Tatra’s PCC-derived trams in the Czech Republic using Czech made Fomapan 100 Classic black & white film.
I was pleased with my results, so, I bought more of this film from B&H photo (saves me a trip to Prague). Earlier this month, while wandering in Philadelphia with my brother Sean, I exposed a few photographs of SEPTA PCC’s working the route 15 Trolley line on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia.
Where trams in Prague run on very tight intervals, often following one another through the city streets, making for a unceasing parade of vehicles to photograph, SEPTA’s Route 15 requires more patience.
I processed the film using the traditional tank method. For this batch, I used Kodak D76 developer 1:1 (with water) for 5 minutes 15 seconds at 69F, preceded by a water-bath presoak with a drop of HC110. After processing I scanned the negatives with a Epson V750 Pro and made minor adjustments to files using Lightroom.
As a follow-up to Wednesday’s Tracking the Light post featuring vintage Ektachrome slides of Boston’s MBTA Mattapan-Ashmont PCCs from the late 1970s, I thought I’d present some of the images of this classic transit operation that I’ve made in the digital era.
I’ve featured this colorful trolley line about a once a year in Tracking the Light, but since the topic is timely as operation of the historic cars now appears to be under threat, I thought a Mattapan-Ashmont PCC review might be of interest.
Light makes all the difference. The current livery used by Brussels trams is silver and bronze. This tends to look sedate on dull days, and makes photographing the trams challenging, as they too readily blend in with the city’s architecture.
However, this silvery livery catches the sun nicely, especially when slightly backlit.
Exposure isn’t exactly intuitive.
Are you better to overexpose (allow more light) to capture detail in the deepest shadows and risk blowing out the silvery highlights? Or, instead, underexpose slight to retain highlight detail and let the shadows go dark.
I’ve chosen the latter course. With the caveat, that from the moment of exposure I intended to work the digital files in post-processing using Lightroom to control contrast for final presentation.
I’ve treated each of the files slightly differently, but in general, I’ve reduced the highlight exposure and boosted the shadow areas to allow for a more pleasing rendition.
On Wednesday June 10, 2015, my brother Sean and I took a spin on SEPTA’s PCCs that work Route 15 along Girard Avenue in Philadelphia.
The cars and stops featured service-notices advising passenger of a scheduled bus replacement due to begin on Sunday June 14 to September 5th.
The reason for this service alteration is necessary track work on approximately two miles of line.
While the cars were running, we made a variety of photographs.
I noticed a gauzy rosy quality to the afternoon light, which I assumed was typical urban pollution. As it turns out there were wildfires burning in Canada and the smoke had spread across the eastern United States. This was especially noticeably in the late afternoon.
Now, is this a fair comparison? Pat Yough lent me his Carl Zeiss Touit f1.8 32mm lens to test on my Fuji X-T1. So I made two similar photographs at the same spot of successive MBTA PCCs at Cedar Grove (first stop west of Ashmont).
A more conventional comparison would have taken a more scientific approach by perhaps mounting the camera on a tripod and photographing a static subject with constant light.
And that would be a good test, its true. But that’s not what I was going to do.
Lens in hand (or more precisely, attached to my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera), I wanted to see what the lens could do as a working tool. How does it handle? How quickly does it focus? What is the color like? Does it seem sharp?
I was comparing it against my ‘catch all’ Fujinon Super EBC XF 18-135mm zoom. At the moment this is the only lens I have for my Fuji X-T1 and I’ve been using it for just about all the photos I’ve made with the camera.
First I used my Fujinon lens of PCC 3262; then 8-minutes later the Zeiss of PCC 3260.
While the 18-135mm is a great lens, it has two drawbacks. It’s bulky and relatively slow (f3.5 –f5.6 depending on the focal length). The Zeiss lens by contrast is lightweight and very fast.
But the really important point of this exercise is the end photos. Which is better overall?
The Fujinon image was made with a slightly wider focal length. Well that’s the advantage of a zoom-lens, right, the ability to adjust the focal length on the spot.
However, one of the unspoken advantages of a prime lens (a fixed focal length lens, such as this Zeiss 32mm) is that it forces the photographer to work within the limits of the given angle of view. Sometimes this makes the photographer (me) work a little harder when composing the photograph.
I found the Zeiss to be fast-focusing, very sharp and it provides excellent clean color. On the downside, the field of view is slightly narrower than I like.
Using the Zeiss 32mm on the Fuji camera reminds me a lot of my old 50mm Leica Summicron (which owing to my use of it with a traditional 35mm-film Leica M, provided nearly the same field of view as does the Zeiss on my X-T1.). The 50mm Summicron always seemed a bit too narrow, but the results I got from the lens have really stood the test of time.
In recent years I’ve been making annual visits to MBTA’s Mattapan-Ashmont Red Line extension. This quaint relic of urban transit is a throw-back to another time.
Thanks to the wisdom and historically minded MBTA, this continues to host restored PCC cars wearing classic period paint. (today, we might call it ‘heritage paint’ but I don’t know that I approve of that term).
Back in June 1978, I visited this line with my father and exposed my first roll of Kodachrome 25 (prior to that I usually used K64 or Ektachrome).
Twenty years earlier, my father had made his first visit to the line. The cars then were double-end former Dallas PCCs, but painted nearly the same as those featured here.
The other day, Pat Yough and I spent an overcast afternoon photographing the antique PCCs. These are great vehicles to travel in and make for intriguing subjects. For me it brought back memories of living near MBTA’s Riverside Line in the early 1970s when PCCs were still the rule on that route.
If you haven’t seen it, John Gruber and I authored a compact book titled Streetcars of Americapublished by Shire that features on the cover a freshly painted former Dallas PCC near Cleveland Circle.
My experience with the Brussels tram network spans nearly twenty years. This fascinating railway network involves a complex route structure with lots of track and several different types of trams.
Street photography has its fair share of challenges. Automobiles and pedestrians mingle with trams in ways that make it difficult to set up shots.
Further complicating matters is the sedate shades of silver and bronze now favoured by STIB (the transit operator), which I find difficult to photograph satisfactorily.
However, in addition to the regular tram livery are a large number of specially painted advertising trams and a handful of old PCCs in the earlier yellow livery, which certainly add a bit of colour to the fleet.
These photos were all exposed during one afternoon in late March 2015.
Way back in August 1980, my father, brother Sean and I visited Philadelphia and stayed in a hotel near the 36th Street portal for SEPTA’s number 10 surface-subway streetcar. Today this is the Sheraton Hotel, I can’t remember what it was back then.
So, on a hot summer’s afternoon, I was on the corner of 36th and Market Street and exposed a Kodachrome slide of an outbound PCC working the number 10 route. PCC’s were my favorite types of streetcars, and I was glad to have caught one on film.
I sent the Kodachrome to Fairlawn, New Jersey. The slides came back in a yellow cardboard box. I labeled this one ‘SEPTA PCC’ and filed it away. Later, trailing views of PCC’s didn’t make my “A-list,” and so for many years I left the photograph un-attended and un-projected.
Moving forward: In 1997, Sean moved to Philadelphia. And, during the last 34 years the area along the Route 10 streetcar line has evolved. In early November 2014, while searching for something else, I came across the old slide, which I scanned with my Epson V600 scanner. What was once mundane, now seemed historic.
In mid-December, Sean and I revisited 36th Street. While, I’ve taken the trolley in recent years, this was the first time since 1980 that I made photographs at this location.
I still have the old Leica, but Kodachrome has gone the way of the Dodo.
Perhaps next summer, we’ll go back to the exact spot and make a proper ‘now and then’ image in the right light.
Beginning in the mid-1950s my father, along with many of his friends, made a project to document streetcars on film. Since then he has traveled to many cities in the United States and Canada (as well as overseas) and exposed thousands of color slides.
I began traveling with him as soon as I could stand, and some of my earliest recollections involve trips on streetcars and subway trains.
My latest book Streetcars of America, co-authored with John Gruber, is now available through Amazon and other retailers. John and I wrote this compact 64-page soft-cover volume in 2013. It is priced at under $10
This is a Shire Publications production and features a concise look at streetcars in North America. It reproduces a variety of vintage and contemporary images, including many historic views made by Richard J. Solomon on Kodachrome film. Readers will find that John and I have covered a lot of territory in just a few pages.
Although I didn’t select the cover image, I feel it’s fitting since it features a Boston PCC car. As a child, I lived in Newton Centre, just a few blocks from MBTA’s Riverside Line and here I often watched, traveled on, and photographed Boston PCCs with my father.