Santa FE 3751
Of the eight million residences living in Los Angeles, about 1,200 of those people belong to the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society. That is the volunteer organization responsible for the restoration and operation of this magnificent locomotive. Amazingly, of all those dues paying members and supporters who's financial support helps keep alive this piece of American history, there are only twelve actual active members who do all the physical work of servicing, operating and driving this giant machine. Three of whom are pictured here.
As I understand it, this Locomotive was built in 1927, and retrofitted with larger wheels along with most of the entire under structure twenty years later. Almost the only original component remaining from the old locomotive is the actual boiler.
Because of the large volumes of water and fuel involved to create pressure in the steam chamber, we had to wait till the locomotive went on a trip to San Diego and back. We arranged the shot two nights after their return. The steam chamber can hold a charge (steam) for several days afterwards because it is so large and dense. The cost of that short trip to San Diego and back was over $3,500 in fuel alone, and amazingly, she uses about 150 gallons of water a mile, wild!
For me personally, of all the shots I have done thus far, this image was especially important. It was the work of O' Winston Link, the steam train photographer from the 1950's who has been the biggest inspiration for me as an artist and, a professional trying to make a statement. Mr. Link’s series of nighttime photos of steam trains photographed with home made flash equipment is to this day a profound body of work that I will never come close to. I was acutely aware however that it is indeed Mr. Links legacy that I would be broaching with my attempt to capture a "steam locomotive at night." Is it arrogance, pride or just a misplaced sense of historical perspective that made me want to create an image worthy of Mr. Link’s legacy? I hope over time this image I offer in the long line of nighttime train photos will be considered at least not - insignificant.
There are two small details you might find interesting. To achieve the look of having this ridiculously large locomotive take on the flavor of a model, or some sort of toy train, (I want the viewer to do a "double take," and not know why) I did rent a large crane to help me light the train from the top. I literally was standing inside a bucket at the end of a 30-foot, three jointed articulating arm on the end of this drivable crane, in order to light the main boiler from the top. It was expensive (and for me personally, really creepy as I'm afraid of heights) but I think the results of those 10 usable frames exposed with above lighting are critical for the overall effect I wanted to achieve. I think it works.
The other oddity that is maybe mildly interesting is that I did not have the advantage of including any neat water towers, old train platforms or other structures to include in the photo. My first choice would of course be to include some of that cool stuff like I do for all my other shots in order to "prop" or at least place the objects in an environment where they would normally "live." In this case, the locomotive lives inside of a fenced off yard as a small piece of property inside of the Amtrak service facility near down town Los Angeles. It is empty in the extreme! Because of the substantial cost of moving the locomotive we had to shoot it pretty much right there. After much thinking and working on the image in my head for months, I was able to come up with a solution to the problem of “no environment.” Embracing the often-quoted axiom of, “Less is more,” I decided to try and make two shots in one. In my minds eye at least I chose to have the locomotive be ostensibly on the left side of the frame facing outward, the front of the train visually dominant and off balance. Thus, breaking all known rules of composition. On the right side of the frame, almost as a separate photo within a photo, would be a couple guys who were involved in the servicing of the locomotive. The man looking into the camera should be such a dominant part of the composition because of his eye contact with the camera that the viewer is almost divided between the two different and distinct compositional groupings, the locomotive on the left side of the frame and the workers on the right. Finally, the use of jetting steam venting out from multiple purge valves of the locomotive was a perfect dynamic tool used to tie all the separate elements together.
Two days after this shot was made I returned to do a close up of a single man and 3 large train wheels. We had to shoot quickly while there was still steam in the boilers. I'll start putting that shot together in a few days or so after I get caught up on my regular work and deadlines. It should be a really charming shot and a "classic." As far as I understand the rules, no train photographer is allowed to shoot steam locomotives without also shooting a close up of the wheels at some point. I'm sorry but rules are rules.