“He knew at once he found the proper place. He saw the lordly oaks before the house, the flower beds, the garden and the arbor, and farther off, the glint of rails…” -Thomas Wolfe
These images stand as depictions of the railroad spirit that has imbibed the American psyche since its inception. From music to painting, the railroad has been an avenue of hope, loss, beauty and redemption. Flowing into the distance or cutting across a picture, the tracks’ confident line anchors one to its path. Once bustling depots sit forlorn, objects of aesthetic pride were forgotten. Elsewhere, tracks flow through immutable mountain passes.
As an archaeological journey along the railroad and a coalescence of Form between the rail line and the environment, these images are couched in a use of light, color, weather and shape which encourage a visual migration through these spaces. A result of several years traveling the Northeast and Midwest in search of images which are structurally related, this series exists in two parts: one utilizing a standard aspect ratio and the other the panoramic format.
The Electro-Motive Divison of General Motors constructed ‘car body’ diesel locomotives beginning in the late 1930s. Their performance and aesthetic appeal led to the demise of the steam locomotive’s costly burden. Although most railroads in the United States were either gone or in severe financial straits by the 1960s, these locomotives remained in service. They stand as historical relics, pieces of equipment that witnessed the pre-1950s railroad hegemony transition into the modern geographically indistinct rail conglomerates.
This is an ongoing project where I am documenting existing F- and E-series carbody locomotives carrying markings of these once powerful and regionally distinct (Reading, Lackawanna, Erie, Wabash, etc.) railroads. Affectionately called “Fallen Flags”, these roads crossed the country with over 230,000 track miles, more than double today’s mileage.
As a homage to their history, the locomotives are ‘keyed’ off a single image of an eroded railroad line along Lake Erie.
Picturing America is to unfurl a tapestry of exceptionalism — not the deifying “City upon the Hill” exceptionalism as we have been taught, but a genuine, vestigial kind. As highways began replacing railroad lines in the 1950s, a restructuring of physical and social space began, suburbs rose and cities suffered. What remains is an illustrative tracery, rich in its ability to evince collective values and shared history.