One of Richard Steinheimer’s most iconic images, and a perfect display of his daredevil feats: Milwaukee Road “Little Joe” electric locomotive no. E77 is captured at speed under moonlight in the Bitterroot Mountains eastbound from Avery, Idaho, in December 1973. Stein placed his camera on the nose of the trailing SD40-2 and hung on in the cold to make time exposures.
RICHARD STEINHEIMER COLLECTION ACQUIRED BY THE CENTER FOR RAILROAD PHOTOGRAPHY & ART
Iconic photographer’s work joins North America’s largest archive of significant railroad photography and artwork
MADISON, WI / June 13, 2022 — The Center for Railroad Photography & Art announced today that it has acquired the majority of the photography collection of Richard Steinheimer, one of the world’s greatest rail photographers, who blazed a trail of creativity across California and the American West for six decades and inspired generations of photographers. The collection includes nearly all of Steinheimer’s color photography, a vast collection of his majestic black and white prints, plus black and white negatives and scans, exhibition prints, and more.
“This is truly a monumental event in the Center’s history,” said Scott Lothes, executive director of the Center. “From the day I joined the staff in 2008, I have hoped the Center could be the steward for Stein’s photography, and I know our founder, John Gruber, also held that hope. We now have the ability to preserve and share his work thanks to the trust of Shirley Burman Steinheimer, Stein’s widow, partner, soulmate, and keeper of his tremendous visual legacy. We’re grateful for the incredible generosity of our board of directors and donors – foremost Bon French and Rich Tower, the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, and everyone who has ever supported our efforts.”
The Center has received nearly all of Steinheimer’s color photography, which comprises about 30,000 slides, as well as a significant selection of black and white prints and scans spanning his entire career, plus black and white negatives circa 1975 and later. Additional ancillary materials will come at a later date. The collection joins an already-impressive list of significant American photographers whose work is preserved by the Center, now in its 25th year, and shared with the public through its quarterly magazine Railroad Heritage, a book publishing series, an annual conference, traveling exhibitions, social media, online presentations, and more. Exclusive member programs are being planned.
Richard Steinheimer was only 23 when he snapped this timeless portrait of Southern Pacific no. 2700 and crew on the westbound San Diego & Arizona train no. 451 at Dos Cabezas, Calif.
Steinheimer was born on August 23, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois, and died from Alzheimer’s Disease on May 4, 2011 in Sacramento, California, where his wife and photography partner Shirley Burman Steinheimer still resides. A team from the Center led by archivist Adrienne Evans gathered at the Sacramento home in early June and prepared the collection for transportation to the Center’s archive in Madison, Wisconsin, where it has safely arrived.
Heather Sonntag, Ph.D., associate archivist, will take the lead on processing the Steinheimer Collection supported by Elrond Lawrence and Ken Rehor, lifelong Stein devotees who were part of the collection team in Sacramento.
“With this milestone achievement, combined with the Ronald C. Hill Collection in 2020 and recent agreements to acquire collections from California photography legends Tom Gildersleeve, Gordon Glattenberg, and Stan Kistler, the Center has assembled a world-class collection of western North American railroad photography,” said Lothes.
Steinheimer’s life and work
“Stein” shook up the world of traditional railroad photography in the 1940s and 1950s with a wholly unique style that included daring action images that leaped out of the camera frame and sweeping panoramas that captured trains in their environments, from magnificent Donner Pass and the stark Mojave Desert to bustling cities, railroad yards, and small rural towns. With a lanky six-foot, six-inch frame, the master of light and composition was fueled by a passionate – and sometimes manic – pursuit of dynamic images, but his true secret weapons were a friendly, humble, and infectious personality and his engaging smile. His demeanor helped him connect with people to make countless soulful portraits of railroaders, rail passengers, and everyday Americans from a vanished era.
In dozens of landmark books and in the pages of Trains magazine and others, he narrated his sprawling photographic essays with lively, joyful writing that celebrated the railroad experience and invited viewers to jump in their car —or board a train – and vicariously join Stein on his latest adventure.
His black and white work is timeless and striking, and his transition to color transparency film provided a new canvas with which to play, reaching new levels of creativity and storytelling with light and mood and the changing colors of western railroads in the 1970s and 1980s. For decades, while creating watershed railroad projects, he was in high demand as an innovative Silicon Valley photographer, shooting for Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, Apple, and other pioneering technology companies.
In 1983 he met fellow photographer Shirley Burman, and their love story created a formidable partnership that thrived for nearly two decades. Together they worked on projects for Southern Pacific, Amtrak, TTX Corp., the California State Railroad Museum, and other clients. Since his passing, Burman Steinheimer has cared for his image collection and legacy; she is currently completing a book about women in railroading and her photography collection is anticipated to join Stein’s work at the Center at a later date.
More information about the Steinheimer Collection, his legacy, and future image requests will be shared at the Center’s website. For more information about this announcement please contact Elrond Lawrence, acquisitions and marketing coordinator, at elrond(a)railphoto-art.org.
The Center’s team (from left) Elrond Lawrence, Adrienne Evans, and Ken Rehor (right) worked with Shirley Burman Steinheimer at her Sacramento home in early June to prepare and ship the Steinheimer Collection.