This weekend (January 26-27, 2013) is the annual Big Railroad Hobby Show sponsored by the Amherst Railway Society. It fills four buildings at the Eastern States Exposition grounds at West Springfield, Massachusetts and attracts tens of thousands of visitors. For railway enthusiasts it’s an epic event and an annual pilgrimage. The show is the living testimony of the late Bob Buck—long time show director and proprietor of Tucker’s Hobbies. Through clever marketing, unceasing persistence and a life-long passion for trains of all scales, Bob built the show from a small railroad hobby event into a massive one. Although Bob passed away in October 2011, the show remains one of his legacies. Last year the society honored Bob with a minute of silence before the show opened; I’m told you could hear a pin drop across the exposition grounds.
My interest in the show is a direct result of my friendship with Bob. Not only was he one of my most enthusiastic supporters, encouraging my photography from a very young age and promoting my work (and later my books), but also he urged me to photograph the show, sometimes commissioning me to make both publicity and documentary images.
For the photographer the show is a visually intense and challenging image making opportunity. Thanks to Bob I’d been photographing the show for more than 30 years. In my younger days I’d fumble through the day and churn through 6-8 rolls of 35mm black & white film, and then try to find a half dozen useable images. While digital photography is a godsend, it hasn’t got that much easier. What’s the difficulty? Thousands of people are packed into the grounds all jostling for views of layouts, while haggling over boxcar kits, rummaging through back issues of magazines and regaling one another with tales of the year’s events. At every step you are confronted with someone bumping you, standing in your way, or thrusting an elbow into your lens. Garish and harsh artificial lighting makes for odd contrast and peculiar color balance while inserting unwanted highlights all over the place. The disparity of scale between the spectators and railway models presents a depth of field nightmare. For the casual viewer the show is pure sensory overload. For the photographer it’s chaos.
Yet, I always bring my cameras. These days I primarily aim to make photos of my friends, my heroes, and the model trains that catch my eye. It’s a complete contrast from my efforts working with ‘prototype’ trains. Yet, when photographing scale trains, I apply many of the same techniques that I use for the larger ones. Here’s just a sampling of today’s efforts.