Photographs & History

Photographs and History

A Visual Legacy  - Using Historical Imagery to inspire Contemporary Works

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, the American railroad became the vehicle at which life’s pace was set. Growing in the east and expanding across the western frontier the railroad was responsible for America’s success. Engineering such a system at such a rapid speed was no small task, the men who ran these companies understood the value of their accomplishments and wanted to share it with the world. To tout these new transportation systems and lure travelers to ride this modern marvel the railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age: photography. 

Jacks Narrows, from Mapleton. Images like this view of the Juniata taken by Frederick Gutekunst during a photographic commission during the 1870's is one of many that inspire my work, in both a historical and aesthetic context. Frederick Gutekunst photograph, Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Jacks Narrows, from Mapleton. Images like this view of the Juniata taken by Frederick Gutekunst during a photographic commission during the 1870's is one of many that inspire my work, in both a historical and aesthetic context. Frederick Gutekunst photograph, Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Railways committed major resources to illustrate their networks, employing some the most preeminent photographers of the time. With the Pennsylvania Railroad's corporate headquarters located in Philadelphia, the epicenter of photography in the US during the 19th Century, it was no coincidence that the PRR was one of the largest supporters of this endeavor.  The company employed photographers for a multitude of tasks including the glamorous commissions illustrating the railroad and its destinations for the Centennial and Columbian Expositions to the more mundane day-to-day documentation of massive engineering projects taking place all over the system. 

Grogan Hollow, former PRR Philadelphia & Erie Branch, Clinton County, PA. Contemporary images inspired by historical views: Much like Gutekunst's views of the 1870's my photographs attempt to explain the railroad's context in the modern American landscape, not always focused on the trains themselves but more importantly the landscape they traveled. 

Grogan Hollow, former PRR Philadelphia & Erie Branch, Clinton County, PA. Contemporary images inspired by historical views: Much like Gutekunst's views of the 1870's my photographs attempt to explain the railroad's context in the modern American landscape, not always focused on the trains themselves but more importantly the landscape they traveled. 

While photography and the railroads redefined the 19th Century’s perception of space and time, surviving imagery leaves us a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It is this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, which allows me to visualize the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States and the continual improvements they made to better themselves in the process.  These volumes of visual assets are the foundation of what inspires my work; the photographer’s technical and aesthetic ability, the conceptual ideas and the resulting images rich with information foster a continued dialogue with my image making, inspiring new works from views of the past.

This is a brief excerpt from the upcoming lecture “Continuing a Legacy, Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad” which I will present next Tuesday, May 9th for the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The lecture is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s monthly meeting and is free and open to the public.

The Pennsylvania Railroad | A Legacy in Images

May 9th, 2017 | Meeting begins at 7 PM
National Railway Historical Society | Harrisburg Chapter

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