THE 2023 JOHN E. GRUBER Creative Photography Awards Program received 230 submissions from ninety photographers representing twenty-two states and eight countries. The judges were fascinated by the range of interpretations for this year’s contest theme: The Role of Technology.
The rotating panel of judges narrowed the submissions to the selected winners based on how well the photographs effectively and creatively represented the contest’s theme while displaying fine photographic skill and compositional storytelling.
The Center congratulates the winners and we extend our appreciation for all of those who entered the 2023 John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards. Those who placed in this year’s program will have their photographs displayed at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden till summer 2024. The first-, second-, and third-prize winners in each category will receive prizes of $750, $500, and $250, respectively. Each photographer recognized in the “Judges Also Liked” category will receive a one-year subscription to Railroad Heritage.
The judges also selected nine more photographs in their “Also Liked” category.
- First Place: Chris Walters, Cammeray, Australia
- Second Place: Richard Koenig, Kalamazoo, Michigan
- Third Place: Frank Barry, Groton, New York
- First Place: Blair Kooistra, Fort Worth, Texas
- Second Place: John Troxler, Logansport, Indiana
- Third Place: George Hiotis, Clark, New Jersey
Judges’ comments: The factory-like precision of this drone photograph beautifully captures the standardization that has taken hold within the rail industry over the last fifty years. A stark and exceptional portrait of stored EMU commuter equipment speaks to the scale and character of modern railroading; and also the sterility and industrial nature of an industry where the relentless march of technological advancement has eliminated many aspects of individuality and personality.
Judges’ comments: This photograph masterfully captures the essence of an operator’s life within the confines of an Illinois Central yard office nestled in Bloomington, Indiana. The diverse tools of the trade glow in the pool of a single lightbulb forming an intricate still-life where several generations of train-control technologies are surrounded by the marks of the operator’s stained coffee cup and creep of cigarette ash in the ashtray. These meticulous details add a layer of authenticity to the scene, including the subtle marks of weathered varnish and frayed wires adorning the operator’s desk, foretelling the ever-present passage of time.
Judges’ comments: The power and energy of a Nickel Plate Road Berkshire at speed sweeps past a train order stand as the crew catches orders on the fly. While a common scene for much of railroading of the first half of the twentieth century, this image beautifully conveys the split-second moment of transfer with an inherent sense of movement and energy as the train rushes onward. This photograph serves as a compelling testament to the evolution of technology and the expertise involved in its artistic portrayal. This image was created in the steam age long before digital camera technology, making it all the more impressive.
Judges’ comments: A pause for tea and contemplation amidst the drab and soot-stained environs of the locomotive shop: the lifeblood for both the worker and the locomotive originates with the simple boiling of water. This image is a great reminder of an era where humans controlled the technology rather than the other way around. The photographer’s careful use of composition and color creates a compelling and thought-provoking story that masterfully depicts a quiet moment before resumption of work on a historic steam locomotive.
Judges’ comments: This image speaks to how technology has helped push the industry into a new era, where railroad communication was once connected by physical wire and paper, it is now satellite-linked within a wireless world. Much of modern railroading depends on radio and microwave communications, and in this atmospheric image, both train and relay tower emerge from an ethereal fog through delicate twilight. The photograph’s subtle yet powerful emphasis of sky reinforces the image’s theme of contemporary railroading’s use of telecommunication tools.
Judges’ comments: A superb portrait of a tower operator pondering an uncertain future reflected in the control machine, which tells its own story in electrical tape and paint presenting the evolution of physical plant, as how the railroad is now able to do more with less, or in many circumstances, simply do less. This image offers the viewer a visual window into the shifting dynamics and ever-changing landscape of rail transportation that forms an exquisite piece of photojournalism.