Railways and Commercial Photography


Here’s a terrific photograph of a streamlined railway locomotive from the 1930s. It’s from a book about the development of commercial photography in Britain during the 1930s. There are groups of images relating to fashion and industrial objects.

There are loads of old photos of trains. Partly, it’s because lots of people had cameras with them when they were travelling – the glamour, the sophistication! But also it was because lots of people like trains!

However, most train photos are pretty much the same…it’s a question of how you can take a picture safely.

From a commercial perspective, the railway train was an excellent challenge. The machine is outdoors, moving at speed and is pretty big. Getting a good shot quickly and so that it would reproduce really well on the page was tricky. This was especially the case in the days of large plate cameras, poor lighting, and slow film speeds.

The commercial photographer was trying to produce an image that could be reproduced and printed in magazine advertising and so on. Even in the 1930s, this was more difficult than it sounds.

The simplest solution was to get down low and  close to the track. The resulting point-of-view managed to make the machine look big and quick; so the image was both dramatic and dynamic, against the powerful diagonal of disappearing perspective.

It still took courage to get a good shot.

These kinds of dramatic point-of-view shots were greatly facilitated by the new, hand-held, cameras of the 1930s. Further afield, the Soviet pioneer, Rodchenko, was the master of these new perspectives in photography.

I’ve posted before about various aspects of railways and photography. You can just check the archive.


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