Connections: 2020 John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards Program


THE 2020 JOHN E. GRUBER Creative Photography Awards Program received 287 submissions from 116 photographers representing twenty-eight states and nine countries. The judges were extremely impressed with the depth of creativity, thought, and image making by each photographer’s interpretation of this year’s theme, “Connections.” Those photographers who presented a powerful and compelling visual story that translated the theme into a memorable, emotive image were rewarded accordingly.

For this year’s contest, the judges’ blind review process focused on the quality of each individual image. The judges chose not to limit one award per photographer when the judges felt that multiple images from the same photographer merited recognition. The judges also felt the quantity of high-quality submissions warranted both color and black-and-white categories of winners.

This year, the First and Third Prize Winner in Color went to a single photographer. Similarly, a Judges’ Also Liked in Color and Black-and-White were awarded to another, single photographer.

The first-, second-, and third-prize winners in each category will receive cash prizes of $750, $500, and $250, respectively. Each photographer recognized in the “Judges Also Liked” category will receive a free one-year subscription to Railroad Heritage.

John E. Troxler, left, and Steven Chen, above, won first prizes in the 2020 John E. Gruber Creative Photography Awards Program in the black-and-white and color categories, respectively.

Connections, Black-and-White Winners:

  • First Place: John E. Troxler, Logansport, Indiana
  • Second Place: Matthew Malkiewicz, Mount Laurel, New Jersey
  • Third Place: Chris Walters, Cherrybrook, New South Wales, Australia

Connections, Color Winners:

  • First Place: Steven Chen, Brookfield, Wisconsin
  • Second Place: Robin Coombes, Cardiff, Wales
  • Third Place: Steven Chen, Brookfield, Wisconsin

Black-and-White: 1st

Connections, Black-and-White, First Prize: John E. Troxler

Nickel Plate Road 765 steam locomotive cab member connects with a boy’s fascination during his ride back to Metra’s Chicago LaSalle Street Station after attending Metra’s 47th Street maintenance facility open house conducted on June 17th, 2017.
Troxler’s memorable presentation of the multi-generational joy, wonder, and discovery of a steam train deeply resonated with the judges’ emotions. The photographer illustrates a careful understanding of the powerful fascination people have with trains. A casual wave from the fireman to the boy, perhaps his first look at a steam engine and the start of a love of railroading, further reinforce the story of connections. The photographer’s silhouette in mysterious reflection adds a further dimension of artistry as he captures the moment.


Connections, Black-and-White, Second Prize: Matthew Malkiewicz

Neglected poles lean sharply next to a Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way in Caliente, Nevada as an intermodal train passes on October 3, 2019. Hard-wired lines of communication are disappearing along railroads across the country.

Malkiewicz’s low angle of lighting and exquisite composition of wires, well car stacks, and landscape layered by a mesmerizing combination of glint and tone makes this image quite special. The definition of lines and highlights that reach across the foreground shrubs and angled pole, wires, stack containers, and hills beyond pull at one’s emotions. This image presents a story of past and present modes of communication with the string of wires and poles from the 1930s installation of Centralization Traffic Control and the modern stack train, connecting the viewer to the past and to the present. Also intriguing to the judges were the aspects of the image that were left to the viewer’s interpretation: which direction is the train traveling, are the wires still in use… The superb lighting, glint, and diagonal thrust of this image make it a winner.


Connections, Black-and-White, Third Prize: Chris Walters

On the left, a couple shares a happy, private moment oblivious to the throng around them; and on the right, less than three feet away, a woman slumps on the stairs, her body language almost the complete opposite, in this diptych view from a commuter train in Sydney, Australia, on February 22, 2019.

The innovative use of a diptych—not immediately seen but discovered—celebrates the connection of people to one another and their mode of travel in this view taken from the upper deck of an Australian bi-level passenger train. The contrast of social density on the left side of the image and solitary quiet on the right side adds to the dynamic of capturing intimate scenes of life on a passenger train, a photograph that takes risk and is rewarded.

Also Liked

Connections, Black-and-White: Judges Also Liked

Color: 1st

Connections, Color, First Place: Steven Chen

On January 29th, 2019, a CSX worker fixes the frog at the northeast end of Emory siding just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Maintaining the essentials of railroads – the frog which connects the rails of sidings and main lines together – compose a humanistic side of railroad life that is equally worthy of documenting.
The poetic calm and intimacy of a man and his railroad, brilliantly illuminated at a key point of connection, delivers lasting power in the judges’ minds. This image tells a story of the relationship of rail workers and the job at hand: frogs are among the highest maintenance components in railroading, requiring constant inspection, as they are very expensive to replace. The quality of light, and the exclusion of potentially distracting details (such as extraneous tools and guardrails) focus the viewer on the key point of intersection of light and dark, of man and his quarry.


Images of Railroaders, Color, Second Place: Robin Coombes

The motion of pistons and connecting rods of LMS Duchess Pacific no. 46233 Duchess of Sutherland at Tyseley Locomotive Works in Birmingham, England, on June 24, 2017.

A symphony of connections in a steam locomotive’s running gear: the artistic and technical expertise of this image, freezing the crosshead in stop action while blurring the movement of the rest of the composition, amazed the judges. The mystery of how the scene was captured, coupled with a sense of almost being able to hear the driving wheel’s movement and smell the oil and steam, left a lasting emotional mark on the judges.


Connections, Color, Third Place: Steven Chen

On December 29th, 2019, a westbound Canadian Pacific freight zips past the Brookfield Depot and grade crossing in Wisconsin, with its FRED blinking away into the night, as vehicle traffic resumes on Brookfield Road. The saturated blue and red techno-colors depict a futuristic vibe contrasted with a historical railway relic from another era – a connection between the past and present.

Once the center of the community and a railroad hub, now passed by in the light of the night, this romantic station image captivated the judges on several levels. The connection of place to the railroad is elegantly presented, where the station and foreground rail and ballast are the only motionless elements in the scene. They anchor this image, which is visually wrapped by the movement of trains and automobiles, connecting a local thread to an evolving world.

Also Liked

Connections, Color: Judges Also Liked