Editorial: The Image of Railroading

Railroading has strong visual traditions, stronger than you may realize at first glance. The images – in silver, on canvas, negative or positive – have been a part of the industry from its beginnings in the 1830s.

The goal of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art is to share this exciting story with you in as many ways as possible: this quarterly, exhibitions, Internet, workshops, an archive, and more. We will explore the visual impact the industry had on the life of America, and look closely at railroading itself in all its splendor and glory and color.

The Center has accomplished a great deal since its founding. The exhibition, “Railroads and Photography: 150 Years of Great Images,” opened in June 1999 in Sacramento. It has since traveled to Altoona, Pennsylvania; Madison, Wisconsin; Lake Forest, Illinois; and Champaign and Franklin Park, Illinois; and reopens June 13 at the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library. A web site (www.railphoto-art.org) provides complementary information including an up-to-date events calendar.

The next step in the Center’s growth is Railroad Heritage, which you see here for the first time. This quarterly will showcase the best railroad photography and art. We want to illustrate with dramatic images how railroading touched the lives of people everywhere. The Center and its quarterly plan to encourage creativity, bring new work to public view, and provide a forum for discussion and explanation of creative works of earlier years.

The Center has invited knowledgeable artists, photographers, curators, and educators to form an editorial advisory board. Railroad Heritage will represent the very best work being done in the fields of railroad art and culture – and it will strive to advance a broader appreciation of all forms of the visual representation of railroading. The second issue will include coverage of books and articles about rail photography and art. Your ideas are welcome.

Railroad companies themselves made a stunning visual record of the building of the network and the opening of the Continent. Today an ever-increasing number of artists and photographers portray the romance, history, and continuing development of railroading.

These spectacular sights and sounds are alive and well today on tourist railroads and America’s main lines. No industry has a closer relationship with the growth of America. Steel rails, the “iron horse,” and the railroader made much of the country’s development possible. Scarce indeed is the American whose family tree does not include a railroader or whose life has not been influenced by the railroad. Through the preservation and presentation of art and photography, the Center offers a new and unprecedented view of the railroad’s influence on American culture.

We ask for your suggestions and support. Your gifts are vital for our continuing success. Please take a few moments to reflect on our achievements, review our goals – and if you like what you see, help make it happen by sending contributions. It will be a rewarding journey though railroading’s grand artistic accomplishments, and a glimpse at an equally bright future.

John Gruber, President, Center for Railroad Photography and Art