A Photo for the Railway Modellers’ Meet

This is the first time in a while that we’ve had a photo display at the Railway Modellers’ Meet. Consequently, the organizing committee decided to task ourselves with ensuring there is something to see; we each need to bring something. This is not a problem for someone like Marc Simpson, who not only knows how to fill Facebook with news about the meet, but also takes photos like film is free. I, however, don’t have the patience to sit around waiting for real trains to show up, and I don’t have much finished layout. So, not many nice photos yet.

Anyway, I like to show fresh work. So, I got out the tripod and three boxes because the tripod is too short to see onto the layout, and I framed the macro lens through the opening in the roundhouse. It took a few minutes following some excellent instructions to add some atmosphere to the roundhouse. Then I played around a little more to add a person, who I found on Flickr. I’m not much of a Gimper, and so, I had to feel my way a lot before finding something that didn’t look too bad.

I’m of two minds about the dude, and I’m curious what you think. Should I include him or not?

17 thoughts on “A Photo for the Railway Modellers’ Meet

  1. I don’t think I’ve seen a picture that wasn’t improved by the presence of a living creature of some kind. I think the inclusion of a person improved the phot0 and implied some kind of activity.

  2. era-specific thought: most photos of the era show no one or a bunch crowding on top of the loco in the image. There was that much pride in the work and the equipment that you don’t usually get the same kind of voyeuristic/intimate image of a man quietly going about his work – which is more of a mid century thing. I think its part of what made the depression era photographers new. Take all that with a bunch of salt – I’m not a student of photo history.

    1. Interesting point, Rob. When we are taking photos of our models, are we trying to capture a realistic scene or a realistic photo of a scene?
      I’m told that for years Model Railway Journal used colour processes to publish black and white photos of railways that would have been before colour film.

      1. Realism in photography and film has always been an interesting topic. For instance, Hitchcock used chocolate sauce instead of blood, because it looked more “real” in black & white. Commercial photographers use PVA glue instead of milk in photos on cereal boxes, because again, that looks more “real”.

      2. Yes. Nowadays of course, it’s difficult to tell the difference between real things posing as something else, as in your examples, and things that are completely not real..,

  3. If the story the figure tells is something you want to examine then keep the figure. If not, do something else.

    If you want to showcase your modelling as it has developed through the millennia leave the figure out.

    If you want to “elevate modelrailroading to the level of art” ensure I am far enough away from said event 🙂

    Some streams shouldn’t cross.


  4. Very nice photo. I had to look closely to find the person, since I reverted back to my old iPhone 5s with the tiny screen after my 6 plus crashed. I think the photo stands nicely by itself, without the figure. But, hey, it’s your vision to convey! Steam on!

  5. My point is you can do whatever you want so long as you can defend it effectively. Digital alteration isn’t an issue if what you’re doing is creating an image that is inclusive of that sort of manipulation. It can be illustration, modelling or art but you usually have to pick one and they come with their own audiences. Is it a memento marking an accomplishment? A sketch for something else? A work unto itself? An image to hang on the wall in a couple of weeks? You get to frame it but you have to ground it to something or do all of the work to tie things together.

    The modelling is quality. The image is possibly an illustration of some point, possibly a narrative but you’re hanging on something that pivots on the medium itself and one change there could have you going 180 degrees another direction. If you hit your mark AND it’s where you want to head anyways then you’ll have something. If it is a recording of the labour you put in then that’s fine too but why do you have a digital manipulation , a figure at that, in the middle of the image? Good reasons are out there for those sorts of dichotomies but what are they? Is there a lead-in that hints at the reason for technologies a century apart to co-mingle in that way? The medium isn’t everything but it can affect more than it needs to. In art it has to be managed/addressed or accepted in some way.


  6. I’m obviously out of my depth here in the art theory, Andrew! You raise an interesting question about the purpose of the work, and it is this: to create an image based on my modelling. It is not a recording, but an image in its own right. I think I also can answer Rob’s question in that I am trying to create a photo of a realistic scene, not a realistic photo of a scene. However, you and Mark are also right that the digital insertion of what becomes the subject of the image creates a different narrative than the simple “engine waking up” story I thought I was telling.

    Having said that, I still like having a figure there because as Richard Guitar says, it improves the photo. The person steals your attention so you almost can’t look anywhere else (it helps that it’s in one of the natural focal points of the image, and near the intersection of several lines). So, I took one of the Andrew Stadden figures that Mark painted and re-shot the base photo. You’ll have to come to the meet to see it, though, as I’m not going to post it here (well, maybe you won’t have to come, Andrew, as you’ll probably see it here one day).

  7. You’re a model railroader so you’re literally creating tableau. Fortunately this is the right area code if you feel the need to explore it’s impact on late modern photography. The so-called Vancouver school was/is one of the most dominant forces in global contemporary art for better or worse. Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, Ian Wallace, Rodney Graham are the most prominent. There are plenty of others following a similar path (Bill Henson is the only one I remember liking) and while I wouldn’t read any of it again something on tableau historically and in context to photography could help plant an idea of how things work.

    OR, you could just keep modelling away at it. Reading PoMo anthologies is like eating cardboard for days at a time. It’s also pretty pretentious.

    I’m an outlier in that I don’t see the obvious benefits to combining art and model making in the hopes of ending up with art. Good model making is in no way inferior to art and I feel if you have the basics down and are able to move an object around in space there is no difference than in making any other object. Conceptually there are a lot of benefits but they come with very high costs. I can’t see many hobbyists wanting to alter an existing project to the degree often necessary to appease a concept that in the end may only ever be half-baked due to its own inadequacies or to technical failings. The latter is a real problem. Think of all the people who wish for greater and greater realism in their modelling. What they actually mean is naturalism and it is incredibly difficult to obtain at the level required. I knew 1 painter and 2 illustrators who could pull it off, the rest worked with what they had and adjusted their expectations accordingly.

    All of the above doesn’t mean that you can’t end up with an image satisfying your criteria with strong pictorial elements -just that it could be difficult and ultimately take away from doing actual modelling.


    1. Thanks for the lessons, Andrew. The Wikipedia article on fine art photography helped me navigate what you’re talking about quite well. These are all great points, and they serve to reinforce my decision to use a modelled figure rather than a photoshop one.
      Of course, now you have me wondering about the statement made by that choice too! Also, I am reminded of my post a couple of years ago about Vesa Lehtimäki (https://pembroke87.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/dont-settle-for-good-go-for-better/). His best work are the photos that celebrate the LEGO origins of the models, rather than those where he brings realistic-looking models into realistic scenes. The image of Darth Vader skiing, for example, conveys a message that everyone needs time to decompress and literally “play good.”
      I really like your distinction between naturalism and realism. This may require more research.

  8. The person in the photo is very subtle. The total image is very realistic in that lighting in these facilities back in the day was very poor. The photo totally works for me with the person present.

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