Would you read this if I titled it; ‘The photographic benefits of filtered sunlight‘?
The other day, Pat Yough and I made a joint venture of exploring Pennsylvania’s West Chester Railroad. This is a tourist line that runs on the vestige of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Wawa Branch (also called the West Chester Branch), formerly an electrified suburban line connecting West Chester with Philadelphia via Media.
SEPTA discontinued scheduled passenger service 30 years ago, although some its old platforms and signs survive as a reminder.
West Chester Railroad was operating its annual Santa Trains using a push-pull set comprised of a former Conrail GP38, a PRR baggage car and some converted former Reading Company multiple units.
Although the classic ‘clear blue dome’ is a favorite of many photographers, bright polarized light is often limiting on a line hemmed in by foliage.
Our late season photography benefitted from high clouds that diffused the afternoon sun. This made for seasonal pastel light that made photographs of the tree-lined railway more pleasing.
Is it a retro railroad fantasy to make images that resemble those of the late-Reading Era in 2015?
Traveling with Pat Yough, I made this selection of photographs at the former Reading Company yards at Cressona, Pennsylvania in December 2015.
Back in the 19th Century, Philadelphia & Reading consolidated various railroads primarily for the movement of anthracite. In its heyday, this railroad was one of the busiest and most profitable in the United States.
Coal demand and transport has changed dramatically in the last 130 years.
Reading Company’s operations entered a long decline in the 20th century and were finally folded into Conrail in 1976. Reading & Northern emerged as a Conrail spinoff in the 1980s.
Today, using a host of vintage railroad equipment R&N provides freight service and seasonal excursions in the spirit of the old Reading Company. Anthracite remains among the commodities moved by the railroad.
R&N paints its vintage locomotives and some freight cars to resemble those of the late-era Reading Company.
The line between documentation and photo recreation is blurred.
Through select cropping, I can either reveal the nature of the passenger excursions, or at first glance make R&N’s excursions operation appear like a Reading Company freight from the mid-1970s, or even its own weekday freights.
When does documentation become a re-creation? In the case of R&N does such a distinction even matter?
R&N offers a window on the old order, which is a relief for a railroad photographer aiming to step back from the contemporary scene dominated by massive class I carriers with modern six-motor safety-cab diesels moving unit trains of coal, ethanol and intermodal containers, and modern passenger trains.
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