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Look back 14 years to a visit to Poland:
Iridescent grass, steam and semaphores, how can you go wrong?
I realize that someone might complain that the engine is working tender first. If so, they can complaint to PKP for their lack of turntables: Keep in mind this is a real revenue freight using an engine based at the roundhouse at Wolsztyn, Poland.
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PKP at Brzeszce, Poland on the 18th of August 2006.
Poland is a great place to make railway photos. There’s tremendous variety and something new at every turn.
I made two trips to Poland in 2006, largely to photograph freight trains. Denis McCabe and I were exploring coal lines in Silesia when we found this location where lines cross near Brzeszce. The north-south line was an unusually busy route. We didn’t need to wait long between trains.
For this image, I opted for a cross lit shot. Taking this angle with a medium telephoto from the ‘dark side,’ allowed me to emphasized the front of the locomotive, while including interesting elements such as the long train of coal cars and the overhead Warren-truss bridge in the distance.
The engine driver is illuminated nicely too, which adds a human element often missing from modern railway photos.
The old station at Chojnow was once a fine facility but had seen better days. The tracks, although highly polished, were tired looking and overgrown with grass, the station building was in need of fresh paint, while the platforms were crumbing and everything was covered in layers of graffiti and grime.
In other words, it made for a fascinating place to make some photos with the rising sun while waiting for a minor cross-border express train. A long electric freight had just entered the passing siding to clear the mainline.
In the mid-2000s, PKP reminded me a lot of Penn-Central in the1970s.
In my travels around Poland, I’d photographed many stations and lines in various states of functional decay; a tenuous state. When a railway reaches such a condition, it will either vanish altogether, or find itself ripe for investment. In either case, it will be forever changed.
Sunrise at Chojnów, Poland on April 29, 2002; exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon N90S fitted with a Nikkor f2.0 135mm DC ‘defocus’ telephoto.
Otto Vondrak encouraged me to post some black & white work as part of the a Black & White Challenge for Facebook, so I’m on my third photo of five, all exhibited through my Tracking the Light photo blog. Normally I post daily, so consider these ‘extra posts’ (with white flags).
Using my Rolleiflex Model T, I made this image on film of a disused steam locomotive on a siding at Jarwarzyna, Poland. I find dead locomotives sad to look at, but they make interesting subjects. The contrast of the Spring flowers with rusting metal offers hope, although not necessarily for the engine.
On August 23, 1989, twenty five years ago today in Warsaw, Poland, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first non-communist prime minister of a Warsaw pact nation. This symbolic event is credited as a landmark moment in the crumbling of the post World War II totalitarian grip on Eastern Europe.
On several occasions, more than decade after the momentous events of 1989, I traveled to Poland to photograph railways.
If Poland had remained under the old regime, I think it would have been far less likely that I would made these trips. The freedom to cross borders and wander around unhindered remains an important consideration in my travels.
I made this view of Warsaw Central Station on May 1, 2002, having arrived by overnight sleeper from Dresden, Germany.
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.
Would you like to leave a comment? Tracking the light is interested in your opinion(s). See the comments section toward the bottom of the page.
I was visiting Poland for the first time in May 2000. While part of the inspiration for my trip was to investigate steam operations at Wolsztyn and elsewhere, I also spent time wandering around cities in the western part of the country.
One morning, I explored Poznan, where I found an extensive electric tram system. The old part of the town had cobble stone streets and interesting architecture, while the post-war outskirts featured rows of austere monolithic high-rise apartment blocks.
I only rode a few of the tram routes, but my literature indicates that network extended for some 56 route miles. The tram pictured here is a standard Polish Konstal car of a type common to many Polish cities.
For me, Poland was like finding an unexplored realm, full of railways with something new at every turn. Over the last decade, I’ve made several subsequent trips to Poland, and numerous excursions across eastern Europe.
See earlier Tracking the Light posts for Polish steam photos:
In April 2002, I was on my way from Zagan, Poland to Dresden, Germany with John Gruber and some other friends. Shortly after sunrise, we changed trains at Chojnów, where rich low sun allowed for some dramatic images of PKP (Polish National Railways) trains. PKP was operating a variety of interesting locomotives, and I’m partial to the distinctive shape of the SU45 diesel.
My journal entry at Chojnów made at 6:34 am on that day includes this observation: “We awoke at 3:30 am to catch the 4:49 am [train] from Zagan—beautiful morning light [at Chojnów], but the station is decayed and graffiti covered.”
After I made this photo, we boarded a train destined for Gorlitz (and Dresden). Breakfast in the WARS dining car was memorable: “The girl at the counter cooked us scrambled eggs in a frying pan—class act!”
Exposed with my Nikon F3T fitted with Nikkor 24mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.
As I mentioned in Polish Steam Working Disused Track (Published on March 6, 2013), eleven years ago I rode a enthusiast’s excursion from Wolsztyn to Zagan in south eastern Poland led by PKP (Polish National Railways) 2-10-0 Ty3-2. This trip covered a variety of disused lines southwest of the Wolsztyn steam depot.
On that day, the train stopped more than 25 times for photography. This image was made near the end of the run. We were at a remote spot, not far from Zagan. The track was fairly derelict. After we got off, the train pulled ahead making for some nice effluence from the engine. Spring was in bloom and I framed the World War II-era 2-10-0 in the blossoming branches of a hedge.
One my favorite images from the April 2002 Polish adventure is this timeless scene of three middle-age men on a horse-drawn wagon crossing the line at Nowa Weis. I caught this on film shortly before sunset with my Rollei. It was on PKP’s (Polish National Railways) secondary line that runs southeast from Wolzstyn to Leszno across through unspoiled pastoral countryside. The largely steam operated and under-maintained railway, added to a rural charm that harked back to another generation. For me it was like stepping back a half century, or more.
As a follow up to yesterday’s view of a 2-10-0 on disused track, here’s a view of a regular revenue train from that same visit to Poland in April 2002. On a scheduled run from Poznan to Wolsztyn, PKP Ol69-111 passes German-style semaphores on approach to a rural station. At this time, several of the daily passenger Poznan-Wolzstyn trains routinely operated with steam, with Ol69 class 2-6-2s being the most common type on them. This was a secondary main line, and although weedy, the track was in reasonably good shape. Chasing the trains on the road was a challenge.
I made this image with my Rollei Model T on 120 black & white film, hand processed using my preferred recipe. The combination of traditional subject matter and the classic camera with 75mm Zeiss Tessar lends to a timeless view. Only, the rake of East German-built double-deck passenger carriages might seem incongruous to un-trained eyes. In fact, these cars were standard in the late era and consistent with Polish passenger practice. In this picture they are dressed in a olive drab livery, however some were later painted in a dandelion yellow, which truly seems out of character behind steam.
Check Tracking the Light tomorrow for more on this theme!
In April 2002, I made this image of a railfan’s excursion led by PKP (Polish National Railways) 2-10-0 Ty3-2 gingerly negotiating a disused line at Kozuchow. This trip covered a variety of closed lines southwest of the steam depot (shop) at Wolsztyn. For me, there is something romantic and compelling about old locomotives plying decaying infrastructure. Perhaps it’s a Byronesque inspiration, or an influence from 18th and 19th century art; paintings that depict vestiges of Roman ruins dotting pastoral landscapes which convey a nagging reminder of the great empire—centuries gone. Here we have the leviathan of another era, plying track barely visible through the grass.
Of course in Poland, there’s layers of complicated history behind such scenes. Railways in this part of western Poland are a legacy of the old Prussian state; while locomotives such as this one stem from 1940s German design. Following World War II, political boundaries were redrawn to reflect the desires of the victors, which placed this part of Germany back in Polish-territory. Cold war politics and economic stagnation combined with large supplies of Silesian coal, compelled Poland to sustain regular steam operations for decades later than most European railways. Following the collapse of Soviet control in the late-1980s, Poland re-adopted a capitalist system. As a result Poland’s railways, especially lightly used lines, such as the secondary route pictured here, suffered. Many lines fell into disuse. Like the fortresses, aqueducts, and amphitheatres of the old Roman Empire, disused Polish railways survived as vestiges of the earlier eras.
The process continues. While Poland has invested in its mainlines, its rural lines continue to fade. Recently, I learned that thousands of miles of lightly used Polish railways may be abandoned. I question the wisdom and shortsighted rational of such a transportation policy, but I cannot help but imagine the pictorial possibilities.
I made my first trip to Poland in May 2000; while part of my quest was to experience steam in revenue service, among the most compelling images I made were of derelict engines such as this one in Silesia. I worked with both 35mm slide film and 120 black & white, the latter exposed with my Rolleiflex Model T.