I’ve admired this image for quite some time, finding it in the Library of Congress’ collection of the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) color photographs.
It is anonymous, unfortunately, but since there were really only 23 or so staff photographers for this gigantic undertaking (including Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Mary Post Wolcott, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Jack Delano, Gordon Parks, Charlotte Brooks, John Vachon, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange, and Ben Shahn, ten of which are truly monumental names in the history of 20th century American photography.)
I think that we could guess that it was done by the hands of a master.
It seems as though less than 2% of the 163,000 or so photographs made by this section during its eight-year run (1937-1945) were made in color, and I’m glad that this was one of them.
Steam trains have had a lasting romantic appeal, especially for photographers.
In the new book Smoke Over Steamtown, published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Dennis A. Livesey documents the steam trains and the people who run them at Steamtown National Historic Site, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a working railroad museum dedicated to the history of steam trains in the United States.
Livesey is a train photographer whose work has appeared in magazines including Trains and Railfan & Railroad.
Along with shots of locomotives passing through snowy landscapes framed by billowing clouds, Smoke Over Steamtown also focuses on life in the maintenance shop and yard, recording images and stories from the people who work as mechanics and crew for the site’s steam locomotives, diesel-electric locomotives, passenger cars and freight cars.
“My first visits here were made as a photographer, inspired by such greats as O. Winston Link and Richard Steinheimer, who tried to capture the steam train experience on film.”
But he eventually “stepped through the looking glass,” as he puts it, and began working on the trains as a volunteer, in addition to photographing them. “Having undergone rigorous training, I serve as a Steamtown trainman and railroader myself.
Instead of capturing the action of others on camera, I am now the one throwing track switches, hooking up air hoses, turning locomotives on the ninety-foot turntable, and giving hand signals to the engineer who stops and starts the locomotive on my say-so.”
The result is an insider’s view of the work of running the site and its trains. Writes Livesey,
“This participation has not only been a new personal experience, it has invigorated my photography, providing a new perspective and lending an authenticity that it did not possess before.”
Not until the Commonwealth Railways were authorized by national parliament was there a start on the truly Australia-wide system which now exists.
Construction of the Trans Australian Railway was started in 1913 and was not completed until the third quarter of 1917, finally connecting the Eastern States with West Australia’s Government Rail at Kalgoorlie.
It took 70 years more to get the transcontinental connection of the Indian Pacific train as a single gauge trip across the country from Sydney to Perth.
On its journey it crosses a perfectly straight stretch of 500 km (297 miles) on the Nullabor plain.
Although this banner named train has an excellent usage it has been a financial loss for the government and in 1998 it was sold to a private operating consortium.
Experts believe the majority of passengers and cargo get around by means of the country’s extensive railway network.
Rail infrastructure may be one of the only measures of economic development where North Korea outranks the South,
In 2009, the CIA reported about 5,200 km of railroad track across North Korea’s 46,000 square miles, compared to 3,300 kilometers in the South.
Kim Il-Sung, who founded the country in 1948 and ruled until his death in 1994, was a big fan of train travel.
His son, Kim Jong Il, was famously afraid of flying. He was reported to have six personal trains, which he deployed in convoys of three to travel among his 19 private rail stations around the country.
According to state media, he died while on one of these train trips in 2011. Kim Jong-Un has broken with tradition, choosing to travel in a Russian made IL-62 — a passenger jet comparable to a 747.
For those not traveling with the Presidential entourage, rail accommodations range from Soviet chic to homemade death trap.
A Soviet M62 diesel locomotive in use in North Korea (photograph by Clay Gilliland).
Pyongyang Railway Station, with a Soviet-era diesel procured from the GDR (photograph by Clay Gilliland)
At the death trap end of the spectrum are improvised train cars people use to move themselves and goods around the countryside. Essentially they are homemade carts and platforms, sometimes powered by old tractor or motorcycle engines, and rigged to run on existing rail lines.
One of the great innovations in a sea of great things accomplished during the Franklin Roosevelt administrations was the formation of the Farm Security Administration, a division of the government established to help farmers through the devastating Dust Bowl and Great Depression.
A subset of the FSA was a photographic unit which was set up to document the progress made by the FSA (and provide, I am sure, for some much-needed good news, a hearts-and-minds campaign).
This division was headed by Roy Emerson Stryker, who wound up with the greatest and most beautiful photographic history ever assembled in the United States.
There were about 77,000 images made, and I recall reading (somewhere) that the total budget for the Stryker group for the years 1936-1942 was about $100,000, meaning that each completed image cost just over a dollar apiece.
So far as art funding by the government is concerned, that about the best it has done.