A contest judging photographs: how hard can that be, right? We all see and interact with images every day. Media, video, our hobbies or professions give us imagery every second. We seek out images we like, we turn away from imagery that challenges us or creates conflict in us (usually). But like a teacher grading based on subjective quality, judging a large group of photographs can be so difficult. We wonder where each person was when they took the photograph. Sometimes the physical location is known, and sometimes the emotional location is also obvious. We wonder what the photographer was thinking, what they were feeling. Did he or she know this was the image of a lifetime or was it a snap that turned out really well? What were the outtakes like? But the act of experiencing these images and selecting the top ones allowed me to see into some very creative and striking minds and the journey to these places broadened my horizon.
My judging process was based on an emotional response to the image. I sought images that were different from the ordinary, matching the theme of the contest: Beyond the Locomotive. Images that drew me in with design elements or subject matter intrigued my brain and allowed me to play throughout the scene. Those that combined the human element with the industrial setting called out and yet some of the strongest are those where we feel the peace and tranquility of a tree falling in the forest. Does the train make a sound if no one is there to hear it pass? I found my interests drawn to the photos that had more to the story. I wanted to know why and what and how and who.
There are some amazing photographers out there, capturing their part of railroad history and pushing their own vision. Combined, we form a document of this time and place. Let it last through the lens.
This image called out to me as a striking photo, not because of the low light or the excitement of the approaching train, but because of the texture and tactile feel of the surface in the foreground. The illumination is enough to give us detail and information but low enough to create a mysterious quality. We honestly question if this scene captures the inside of the tunnel or the outside. The snow covering the tracks creates a blanket to soften the setting and the curved top edge of the tunnel continues that organic feeling not always seen in a hard industrial subject. Perhaps the setting almost creates a cliché, but I honestly don’t know what will be coming out of the tunnel- a giant, whooshing steam locomotive or a compact and efficient hybrid, or maybe a dragon.
This image triggers a pride and nostalgia for the people of the Railroad. Machines are big and powerful but they are built and run by people, sometime by people using nothing more than a pen and paper to keep it all together. The simplicity of this image draws my eye again and again. But within that simplicity, there is much happening. The angle of the camera takes the rigidity and structure away from the paper and the softness of the shape of the human hands lines that left side like an anchor. Each element is a humanizing touch; a plaid shirt (my dad has a plaid very similar to that), the precision of the pen, and the tidy but complete organization create an overall feeling of control and calm.
The images submitted here all have one strong unifying feature. They have a strong, yet easy curve carrying us into the center of the image and around the frame. Aesthetically, the snow covered mountain with the train leading into the background has activity in all parts of the frame. The mountain rises above with majesty and the unconquerable-ness of nature while the train slowly moves around it. The hard vertical of the power poles break the frame into small pieces and keep the eye jumping in increments. The shadow image takes such a busy but simple background and makes a pleasing and almost unidentifiable shadow the focal point. With the lines of the bridge, the lower half of the frame is again broken up. The tunnel image forms a great parenthesis with the left curve of the shining track and the slight right curve of the tunnel wall. It’s a play with negative space that ricochets off the bright specular highlight of the locomotive ahead.