When a muse whispers in your ear, the prudent thing to do is listen carefully, you’re about to receive a gift. The process of creating something is thought by many to be a form of magic reserved for the chosen few. Maybe clinging to that belief is our way of feeling comfortable. If only anointed ones can do these things, then we’re off the hook.
I don’t believe that creativity is the untouchable domain of a select few whom the gods have favored. I believe all of us are drawn to something and there’s less magic involved than we’d like to think. Through study and experience, I understand that the real creative magic is in hard work and persistence, rather than some divine thunderbolt from on high. I’ve also learned that staying connected to our chosen subject is important. With that in mind, I’ve felt a strong desire to grab my camera and reconnect with railroading.
I haven’t done serious railfan photography in decades. I lost interest because of the changes that occurred in Richmond. I lost interest because of the changes in railroading itself. These are the excuses. The truth is I lost interest, period. My ego got in the way, declaring that the good old days are gone. There’s nothing worth my time and attention anymore, so I’m outta’ here. With decades of time wasted, I now realize the ego is a jerk.
How does one reconnect and find that comfort level again? With humility and patience. I don’t have to range far afield in search of some inspiration, it’s at my doorstep, all I have to do is invite it in and make it feel welcomed. Heading trackside in Richmond, it’s time to look with wiser eyes. This area is at once so familiar and yet so different now. Gone are the days when the Columbus and Cincinnati Divisions of the PRR met east of town and then rubbed shoulders past Glen Yards and the depot, only to shake hands before parting ways at the Newman Interlocking across the river. Today, this stretch of track has a different story to tell.
As a young know-it-all, I would just point the camera and shoot, believing the objects were the source of inspiration rather than listening to what was drawing me to them. My early photos were like the transcript of a court reporter: Here’s this boxcar on this day in this place. Just the facts ma’m, nothing but the facts please. On a recent crisp morning, I wanted to look deeper and let the images of today speak without being drowned out by echoes of the past.
A mixed assortment of freight cars was parked on the Back Track in the yard across from the depot. The locomotive, a D9-40c No. 8855, an alumnus of GE’s class of 1995, sat across 8th Street on the remnant of the old Indianapolis main that Norfolk Southern uses as a switch lead for industries on the west side of town. I hadn’t used my 300mm lens in quite a while and decided this was a good day to get reacquainted. I set up on the north side of the main line, keeping a respectful distance from the tracks. The initial images were just testing out various compositions and focal lengths while warming up my artist’s eye. Despite the cold and long lens, I shot freehand using the auto-focus and image stabilizing features that modern digital cameras now offer. My eyes tend to water excessively in cold, windy conditions and this lens has a sensitive focusing ring that demands a delicate touch.
A horn from the east announced the arrival of a unit train of covered hoppers pulled by a trio of BNSF pool power (opening photo) so I made the obligatory shot, which was nothing to write home about. As I got comfortable with the scene, I relaxed and let my eye wander. At its full focal length of 300, the lens exaggerates the lines of the track and this is always fun to play with. The ground throw for the yard switch makes a good composition too.
Before long the crew came walking along the tracks from 12th Street where the transport van had apparently dropped them off. Inspecting the cars and lugging their gear, they made the long cold trek toward the locomotive and thanks to their arrival, I rethought my plans for the morning.
The world of the visual arts opens wide when an amateur stops seeing plain objects and learns to understand and see the quality of light. The low morning sun was breaking through the clouds now, offering far more interesting images. The crew had the engine ready to go and as they came out of the siding, I fired off a couple of shots into the deep shadow, not really knowing what I’d get. I was pleasantly surprised with the light on the Purina building and how it brought out the shape of the loco. The foreground shadow cast by the furniture store on the left provided a stark contrast that reduced the engine to little more than a silhouette. The running lights and highlight on the call box padlock add the right touch of warmth and interest.
Crossing 8th Street and entering the yard, they coupled onto the standing cars and shoved back to pick up a covered hopper off Industry Two. The sun continued to provide interesting light and I had plenty of lens to capture the action, so I stayed put and out of the way.
While they worked their way back and forth to organize the consist, I walked around looking for more interesting vantage points to shoot from. To my left the line of trees and scrub along the northern boundary fence beckoned with possibilities. As 4000hp pulled toward my position, I captured a shot that made the watery eyes and cold fingers worthwhile.
When the engineer ran around the cars, I knew he was preparing to head east and work industries on that end of town and I decide to move to 12th Street for the going away shot. Sadly, I let old habits have their way and the shot turned out as mediocre as you could want. You can’t win them all but it was a satisfying morning nonetheless.
When we loose interest or go stale with an activity, it’s often because we’ve lost sight of the essential connection that drew us in the first place. I feel this way about my modeling these days. I’m at that in-between place and even though my motivation is currently a bit low, there is a greater than ever desire for a deep understanding of my subject. Creative endeavors are like a well that can go dry from overuse. Reconnecting with the source of my inspiration is a good way to replenish that supply.