Twenty eight years ago on this day, my brother Sean and I made a survey of the former PRR electrified mainline south (timetable west) of Philadelphia.
Rather than literal interpretations, I was aiming for something more interpretive.
I’d bought a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 160 slide film. This featured a ‘tungsten balance’ designed to work with incandescent lamps and so featured a very cool color temperature, which accentuates the effect of dusk.
My notes from the day are nearly 4,000 miles away, so I can’t tell you which suburban platform on which we were standing when I made this time exposure of a rapidly approaching Amtrak train in the blue glow of the evening.
What I remember most from that evening was a sky filled with migratory birds, chirping, singing and squawking as they flew by.
Tracking the Light Posts Everyday, sometimes more than once!
On Wednesday January 2, 2019, my brother and I made an adventure of exploring the SEPTA system.
We bought Independence Passes, which offer essentially unlimited travel on the SEPTA transportation system for a day, and we sampled a variety of modes and lines.
We began at Parkside Avenue by boarding the number 40 bus (GASP!), then to the Market-Frankford rapid transit. At Jefferson Station/Market East we picked up a heavy rail train to Norristown where we transferred to the old Philadelphia & Western high-speed line to 69thStreet.
From there the Media trolley to its namesake (yes, there’s a town called Media, Pennsylvania, and it’s one of the last with a single track trolley right up the main street.) Reaching the end of the trolley line at Orange Street, we walked to the old PRR station, and boarded a train that ran through to West Trenton, New Jersey, although we alighted at Woodbourne, PA to meet our friend Pat Yough, who took us by road to a nearby pub.
Our return trip retraced our steps to Philadelphia’s suburban station, where after some trials and missteps, eventually found the appropriate bus (GASP!) and this brought us back to where we began.
The light was dreary, but I made photos anyway using with both my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm digital cameras.
SEPTA has a small fleet of electric locomotives; seven are AEM-7s (kin to Amtrak’s now retired fleet), one is a similar model ALP44 built by ABB Traction in 1996.
This one SEPTA ALP44 carries the road number 2308. It is among the regional rail operator’s most elusive locomotives. NJ Transit also operated ALP44s, but these have been out of service for a number of years.
Last week (November 2017) I was in the right place at the right time and caught 2308 arriving at Temple University (station) with a train destined for Thorndale. I boarded and traveled to Jefferson Station (formerly called Market East), where I made these images using my Lumix LX7.
Soon SEPTA will be receiving a fleet of new Siemens-built electrics, so I would assume that old 2308 is on borrowed time.
Recognizing rare equipment is part of making interesting railway images.
Is SEPTA’s 2308 the modern-day equivalent of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s DD2 electric (a rarely photographed, one-of-a-kind machine that looked similar to PRR’s common GG1)?
I made good use of the pass, traveling over several heavy rail routes to make photos.
One of the greatest features of this pass is the ability to get on and off trains without concern for cost, or trying to explain to the conductor where I’m are traveling to. This allows me to change my plan on the spot if I see an interesting location.
SEPTA offers regular interval service on most of its suburban lines, with extra trains in the evening rush hour.
These digital photos were made using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
Dusk is a mystical time to photograph; highlights are subdued, shadows are deep, while the prevailing light is soft and cool. Window light is equivalent to the outdoors, and railroad signal light seems more intense.
The short SEPTA line to Cynwyd in the northwestern Philadelphia suburbs is a vestige of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Schuylkill Valley line that once reached northward into anthracite country.
Today Cynwyd is the end of the line.
Until last week, it was one of the last segments of SEPTA’s Regional Rail network left for me to travel.
I arrived at dusk, and in that ‘blue hour’ and I made these photographs using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
All things being equal I would have used a tripod, but I didn’t have one so with the XT1, I boosted the ISO to unusually high levels to compensate for the dim conditions.
I made these views of a CSX freight operating on the former Reading Company in Philadelphia. My vantage point was from the sidewalk on the road bridge near the Strawberry Mansion Bridge over the Schuylkill.
The day was bright, but partially overcast, which benefitted my photography since bright sun would have resulted in a difficult and unflattering high-contrast situation.
This northward freight was moving slowly, allowing me to work with two digital cameras and expose a series of images as it went by.
To the uninitiated a cold windy rainy night might not seem like a good time to make urban photographs.
In my eye this is a fantastic opportunity to make unconventional images.
My brother and I planned to ride SEPTA’s No. 15 streetcar along Girard Avenue to have burgers and beer at Johnny Brenda’s located on Girard near the crossing of the Market-Frankford rapid transit line.
I worked with my Lumix LX7 hand-held to expose this selection of images.
Some of the street views were exposed using the Lumix’s ‘night mode’ that exposes a burst of images in rapid succession and combines them in-camera as a composite.
As you can see it was really lashing down and the most difficult part of this exercise was keeping the lens dry.
Two weeks ago on my visit to Philadelphia, I was on my way to the University of Pennsylvania for a brief tour before heading to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station to board the Vermonter for Connecticut, on the way there in an ‘Uber’ (taxi) I notice the trolleys on the street.
Apparently SEPTA had its Center City trolley subway closed (for maintenance?) and so the trolleys that normally went below ground were working rarely utilized street trackage on 38th street instead.
How long this diversion as to be employed was beyond my knowledge at the time, but since I knew that I won’t be back in Philadelphia for many months, I only had this brief window to photograph this unusual operation.
I had just a few minutes to make images as I need to accomplish my tour and reach the station in little over an hour.
These photos were exposed using my Lumix LX7 digital camera.
This is my variation of the old ‘Take a Ride on the Reading’, since SEPTA is part Reading. (That’s the old Reading Company.)
SEPTA’s also part Pennsy—the late great Pennsylvania Railroad.
Buy Independence Pass on the train, and ride transit all day to your heart’s content.
Most of these photos (but not all, see captions) were made using my Lumix LX-7 compact digital camera over the course of a few days wandering around Philadelphia last week.
I’ve found that this low-key image-making device is great for urban environments. It’s small & light, easy to use, flexible & versatile, features a very sharp Leica lens, makes a nice RAW file and a color profiled JPG at the same time, and, best of all: it’s reasonably inconspicuous and non-threatening.
For my second roll, I focused on a variety of railway subjects, aiming to see how this film would perform. This one was exposed using a Nikon F3 with various Nikkor lenses, exposure calculated manually with the aid of a handheld light meter.
I made these images in parallel with digital images exposed with my other cameras.
As with the first roll, I exposed the Retropan at ISO 320 and processed it more or less as recommended by Foma.
Again, for this roll I used the Retro Special Developer with shortened the processing time (I opted for 3 minutes 30 seconds plus a pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of HC110.
Overall, I was pleased with the tonality and tight grain structure. The film has a softer look than other fast black & white films, such as Ilford’s HP5, and a broad tonal range that holds highlight and shadow detail very well.
I scanned the negatives with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. These images are essentially unmodified scans, except for necessary scale reduction for internet presentation plus addition of my watermark. I did not alter contrast, exposure, tonality, or perform sharpening.
This test went so well, for my next experiment, I decided to significantly alter my processing of the film. Stay tuned for my bold experiment with Retropan Roll 3! (Sometimes changes produce unexpected consequences).
Czech film manufacturer Foma introduced a new black & white film in 2015 called Retropan Soft (ISO 320).
This is advertised as a panchromatic, special negative film with ‘fine grain, good resolution and contour sharpness’. Among its features are a ‘wide range of half tones and a wide exposure latitude.
I tried my first roll in early December 2016. I have to admit that I was curious, but skeptical. Could this new b&w film change the way I approach film photography? Might it offer something decidedly different than Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5?
Working with an old Nikon F3 and 50mm lens I wandered around Philadelphia with my brother and exposed a variety of gritty urban images that I thought might benefit from the look advertised by ‘Retropan’.
I exposed my film at ISO 320, and processed it more or less as recommended using Retro Special Developer, with two small changes:
I shortened the processing time (as I generally find that manufacturer recommended times are too long and lead to excessively dense negatives); plus I pre-soaked the film in a water bath with a drop of HC110 (as described in previous posts).
The negatives scanned well, and I was impressed with the tonality of the photographs. I’ve included a selection below.
Please note, that although I scaled the files and inserted a watermark, I have not cropped them or manipulated contrast, exposure or sharpness. These photos are essentially un-interpreted.
Stay tuned for my next Retropan test!
Brian Solomon presents something new on Tracking the Light every day.