Worldwide Winners of the 2016 John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards


Olaf Haensch (left) and Simon Jowett won first prize in the “Most Evocative” and “Mobile Device” categories, respectively.

The 2016 John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards Program brought forth an incredible array of submissions. The judges had the difficult task of selecting the best amongst the 331 images submitted by 141 photographers—the second-highest participation in a CRPA contest. The two-category format—one for recent images from mobile devices and one for most evocative images of all-time—was a success, bringing in diverse and surprising work. Entrants ranged from teenagers to eighty-somethings, and they came from more than thirty different states and ten countries.

The judges are always looking for superb execution and original concepts, and the top award in the “Most Evocative” contest fit the bill. Olaf Haensch’s photograph of a steam train passing through a snowy forest, viewed from directly above via an octocopter carrying a DSLR camera, produced an image that is timeless and impressionistic. The train winds through a stark scene of leafless trees, with the smoke trailing perfectly behind the engine and obscuring everything beyond the front of the train. It is unlike anything the judges have seen before, and was a clear winner. Second place went to Miško Kranjec for his pair of gritty, contrasty images of workers in a roundhouse. Third place went to a classic, midcentury scene by Charles McCreary showing the Pennsylvania Railroad in Pittsburgh. The Judges Also Liked category spans an incredible range of work, touching on mood and exploring various common railroad scenes in new ways.

The Mobile Device contest produced a diverse range of strong images. The top award went to Simon Jowett’s photograph of the distorted and colorful reflection of a station scene in London. Second place went to Ryder Bechtold for a powerful, candid view of three passengers on a London Underground subway train. Third place is a superb black-and-white scene by Jeremy J. Schrader of a train passing through a backlit urban landscape. The Judges Also Liked category includes several excellent examples of photographers utilizing the strengths and special capabilities of their mobile devices, including multiple panoramic views and even an underwater image.


In each category, the first prize winners will receive $500, with $300 for second place and $200 for third. The Center will publish the winners in the Spring 2017 issue of Railroad Heritage, and Railfan & Railroad magazine will publish the winners in their March 2017 issue. We are again partnering with the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento to present a gallery exhibition of the winners, as well as several selections from both “Judges Also Liked” categories.

It was truly a struggle to select the best, and the judges worked to review and revisit their decisions over the course of four hours’ worth of discussions. These submissions were an inspiration to all of us at the Center, and we will be adding many of them to the site in a web gallery.

Miško Kranjec of Slovenia took second prize in the “Most Evocative” category.

Second prize for “Mobile Devices” went to Ryder Bechtold for his candid view on the London Underground.

Charles McCreary (above, “Most Evocative”) and Jeremy J. Schrader took the third prizes.

More information about the 2016 Awards Program

In a sharp break with the past, the 2016 John E. Gruber Creative Photography Award was into two categories:

  • Exceptional images from mobile device cameras
  • Most evocative images by living photographers

Mobile device cameras

The first category requires that entries be captured with a camera on a mobile device, such as a cellular telephone or a tablet. Flickr statistics show that telephone cameras are the most popular devices used on the site and Apple showcases a gallery of incredible work done with its products.

The cellphone camera is often treated as a curiosity and a casual device by serious photographers, but users have accepted the quality and the convenience of the devices so well that traditional camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon have experienced a severe drop in sales. The quality of recent mobile device cameras is quickly closing the gap between the quality of most digital SLR cameras; it is more than adequate for large prints and publications. “Photographing our lives with our phones has become a completely natural behavior,” David Guttenfelder writes in National Geographic (July 2016, page 122).

There’s the saying that “the best camera to use is the camera you have with you.” The cellphone and tablet are ubiquitous in modern life, and are with us at times when the DSLR is at home or in the bag. Often the best photographs are not planned, but are the result of unexpected circumstances and the mobile device camera is the one we have with us to record them.

The mobile device category has the following goals:

  1. Open participation to those who do not own an SLR camera or who otherwise would be intimidated by a “serious” contest.
  2. Challenge members and existing participants to think differently about the potential of the device they already carry with them.
  3. Provoke discussion about where and how great images are being made today.
  4. Produce material for an exhibition that younger viewers can relate to. (“I could do that too.”)

The second category challenges participants to enter their absolute best images of railroading. There are no limits on when the images were made, which allows anyone to participate. Please limit the scale and scope of any manipulation to traditional darkroom printing techniques such as dodging and burning.

This category has the following goals:

  1. Open participation to anyone, particularly those who haven’t been able to participate over the last few years.
  2. Unearth great work that would otherwise not be seen.
  3. Focus on the skill required for the original capture.

Evocative: 1st

Most Evocative, First Prize: Olaf Haensch

Harz Mountains, Germany, January 6, 2016

The elements come together for Olaf Haensch of Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany. It is cold, there is snow covering the trees and ground, and steam exhaust is hiding the locomotive and train with an overcast and windless sky. Viewed from directly above with an ultra wide angle lens the trees themselves seem to all be pointing to the focus of our attention.

Photographer’s notes: Harz Narrow Gauge Railroad (HSB) locomotive 99 6001 pulling three coaches of a regular steam train through a forest of Germany’s Harz mountains, fighting the steep gradient to the peak of Sternhaus-Ramberg station on the Selke Valley line. The photo was taken using an octocopter, which was carrying a DSLR camera.


Most Evocative, Second Prize: Miško Kranjec

Ljubljana, Slovenia, November 8, 2012

Railroad hands. Miško Kranjec of Ljubljana, Slovenia, has long been know for human interest images and here he uses a high-contrast, gritty style to capture the feel of workers on the Slovenian Railroad in his home country.

Photographer’s notes:

Railroader’s Pride. Oiling the bearings of the Slovenian Railroads’ museum locomotive 33-037 (ex. Deutsche Reichsbahn class 52 Kriegslokomotive) in the service track’s pit, the fireman bumped his head on an axle. In the impact his cap badge, a winged railroad wheel (typical insignia used widely in various forms by European railroads), was bent and smeared. When he climbed out of pit, in spite of the strong pain and visible bump on his forehead, his first action was to straighten the badge, clean it, and polish it with his greasy hands and a piece of shredded cotton, until it returned to its former shape and shine. Only then he allowed himself a moment for recovery.

Hoggers’ Breakfast. After firing and preparing all night long Slovenian Railroads’ museum locomotive 06-018, a massive 2-8-2 built by Berlin locomotive builder Borsig in 1930, both the night and morning crews assembled in the winter-cold roundhouse for breakfast. On the menu: home-boiled, aromatic linden herbal tea with lemon and sweetened with honey, freshly baked brown bread, and those extremely tasty “Carniolian sausages,” a famous Slovenian specialty containing mostly pork and very little bacon which, stuck on skewers made from thick wire, were fried in the locomotive firebox. The delicious aroma spreading out of the sausages, enveloping the men and rising their hunger, overpowered the smell of the grease, hot oil, and burning coal. I was up all night with these guys, photographing them, and of course I was invited to join them for breakfast. It was the damn best breakfast I ever had!

See more at Miško’s Flickr site.


Most Evocative, Third Prize: Charles McCreary

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 1950

It’s in the details. What makes the image so fascinating is not just the record of a place and time created by Charles McCreary—a retired physician living in Minneapolis, Minnesota—but all the minute details; the more you look, the more you see; people, cars, billboards, remnant of streetcar tracks.

Photographer’s notes: Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train no. 44, an overnight local from Chicago making twenty-seven stops, about to enter the Pittsburgh station. After crossing the the Allegheny River the train is moving through the sharp curve notorious for binding and derailing the rigid-framed T1s. Arrival time in PIttsburgh is 1:25 p.m. on this hot day in July. The presence of diesel power on this lowly train means steam on the Pennsy is coming to an end.

See more of McCreary’s photography in his book Train Pictures, 1946–1957: A Railfan’s Memoir.

Also Liked

Mobile: 1st

Mobile Device, First Prize: Simon Jowett

Gold. Marylebone, London, United Kingdom, on June 5, 2016

What are we seeing? Hailing from York, United Kingdom, Simon Jowett’s use of bold colors and captivating reflections helped propel this view to the top of the winners’ stand in the Mobile Device category. Part of the fun of an image like this is to figure out just what are we seeing. Our interest is increased with the lone figure of a woman in the lower left corner.

Photographer’s notes: Made with an iPhone 6 Plus and edited in Apple ‘Photos’ and ‘Enlight’ app. Class 166 units await their next turn of duty, reflected in a coffee shop awning.

See more of Simon’s work on his Flickr stream.


Mobile Device, Second Prize: Ryder Bechtold

Three faces. Ryder Bechtold, Denver, Colorado, made his straight-forward, subway photography more intriguing by the way he presented these three figures and their faces, sitting next to each other yet perhaps lost in their own thoughts. The image evokes Walker Evans’ clandestine “Subway Portrait” series from 1941.

Photographer’s notes: The shared experience of a Tuesday morning on the London Underground’s Northern Line. iPhone 5s

London, United Kingdom, July 28, 2015


Mobile Device, Third Prize: Jeremy J. Schrader

St. Louis, Missouri, October 17, 2016

With his excellent framing, contrast, and use of light, Jeremy J. Schrader of Princeville, Illinois, really strikes a chord for those old enough to remember the famous White Castle Hamburger chain with the mini-sized five cent hamburger—the very first fast food hamburger chain and founded in 1921.

Photographer’s notes: While dining at The Broadway Oyster Bar in St Louis, Missouri, on a Monday afternoon, I turned to look over my shoulder and noticed a Union Pacific train descending from the MacArthur bridge. I picked up my iPhone 6S and snapped a photo into the sun, using bars on the window and street lights to block the sun. I then converted the image from color to Noir in the picture app on the iPhone 6s as the color was washed out but the noir feature darkened the sky and gave the image some mood. While I do own a DSLR and take it out on photographic outings, there are many times, like this day, I when leave it packed in the bag, opting for the lightweight and effective iPhone instead.

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