Winners of the 2013 Gruber Awards Program: Creative Images

First Place: Ronald Olsen

Ronald Olsen of Coventry, Rhode Island, has won first prize in the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s 2013 John E. Gruber Photography Awards Program. Olsen has been photographing nocturnal steam operations in China since 2001, and his view from the Beitai Steelworks in Liaoning Province combines ambient lighting and industrial conditions in an unusual and very dramatic way. Second prize went to Daryl-Ann Saunders, Brooklyn, New York, while Nick D’Amato of Denver, Colorado, took third prize. Twenty-five additional photographers—hailing from three continents—received recognition in the “Judges Also Liked” category.

The eighty-six photographers who entered the awards program provided a very diverse range of images. Nearly every entrant submitted one or more photographs containing the “wow” factor and having strong merit in the contest. It made a powerful case for “Creative Images,” the theme of the 11th annual awards program. The Center expanded the notion of creativity in the program by opening submissions to include all forms of digital manipulations (so long as they were disclosed).

“It was an exciting contest for three of us to judge, with entries from very creative photographers,” said John Gruber, the Center’s founder. “It is gratifying to see how the quality of railroad photography is constantly increasing.”

The collection as a whole would make for a stunning gallery exhibit or book. While the judges struggled with the arduous task of picking only three images for the first, second, and third place winners, they saw no losers among the entries.

“I was impressed with the quality and variety,” said one of the judges, a graphic designer. “That was what made it hard for me to pick out the winners. The photographs themselves and the views of the other judges expanded my appreciation and understanding of railroad photography.”

First place receives $1,000 in cash and a printer donated by Canon, a Pixma Pro-10 (maximum print size of 13 by 19 inches, using archival pigment inks); second place, $500 cash and from Lowepro, camera backpack Photo Sport 200 AW; and third prize, $250 cash and from Lowepro, a Toploader Pro 65 AW camera bag and lens case. An anonymous donor provided funds for the cash prizes. Complimentary one-year memberships to the Center go to all who received honorable mentions. The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento will host an exhibition with most of the photographs. The Center will publish the winners and a selection of images the Judges Also Liked in issue no. 35 of Railroad Heritage (December 2013), as will Railfan & Railroad in a future issue.

Thanks go to Mel Patrick who helped promote the awards and encouraged photographers to send entries.


John Gruber, David Kahler, and Nona Hill
John Gruber (left) thanks the Center’s board of directors and members at the 2012 Conversations about Photography conference, where the board announced the renaming of the Center’s creative photography awards program in his honor. A majority of the Center’s was present, including Nona Hill (right) and David Kahler (center). Photograph by Hank Koshollek.

Noted photographer, author, editor, and preservationist of railroads, John E. Gruber of Madison, Wisconsin, was honored April 14, 2012, by the board of directors of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art—an organization of which he was the principal founder—by having the Center’s awards program named for him.

Now the John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards Program, the competitive program started in 2002. It is devoted exclusively to contemporary railroad photography and attracts hundreds of entrants annually from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Winning photographs are published in the Center’s journal, Railroad Heritage®, and in Railfan & Railroad magazine, are displayed at the California State Railroad Museum, and appear on this website.

Gruber has been a photography and preservation activist in the railroad community since 1960. His own photography has been published widely, especially in Trains Magazine. “A remarkable, movie-like sequence” of June 18, 1961, photographs showing a Milwaukee Road passenger train passing into and through a tunnel at Tunnel City, Wisconsin, brought him widespread attention in the November issue of Trains that year. In its August 1965 issue, Trains devoted 18 pages and its cover to a Gruber photo story on Chicago’s Union Station—a highly unusual honor. One notable and often reproduced image, “It Could Be a Cathedral,” shows a nun in habit walking alone through the station’s ecclesiastical-looking colonnade.

In 1994, the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society presented Gruber with its Fred A. and Jane R. Stindt Photography Award. From 1995-99, Gruber edited Vintage Rails. In 1997 his intense interest in both photography and preservation, and his concern about the welfare and longevity of amateur and professional photographers’ work, led him to organize the founding of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

As an author Gruber has written Classic Steam and is co-author of five other volumes of railroad-related images. He is a prolific writer of magazine articles, and most recently wrote an introductory essay about preservation of railroad equipment for Joel Jensen’s Steam: An Enduring Legacy.

Gruber is easing toward retirement as the Center’s president, now focusing on a 2013 exhibition and accompanying catalog of Chicago railroader portraits by Jack Delano, taken for the Office of War Information in 1942-43 as part of the U.S. government’s efforts to encourage popular support of World War II. The exhibition will be presented in conjunction with the Chicago History Museum in one of its galleries devoted to temporary shows. Gruber and his Center colleagues are seeking descendants and heirs of the portrait subjects. Their stories about them are creating a group biography of Chicago’s highly diverse community of railroaders, representative of railroaders from around the country.