Old 04-13-2011, 06:55 PM   #1
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Default Thoughts About Reenactment Photos

I can appreciate the planning, hard work and imagination represented by the many photos posted over the years showing people going about their business next to a steam locomotive or old coach, often in period clothing or accompanied by a period vehicle. However, I'd encourage those who are setting up such shots to get their human subjects to look a little less static as if they were waiting for the photographer to take the picture. A soldier hugging his doll before boarding a coach, a workman placing a wrench on a locomotive or checking a journal box should not be standing flat-footed but should be bending / flexing, reaching etc. An old car posed next to a crossing should have some dust or mud spatters and not look like it was carried in stuffed and mounted. Try for a little more movement in these reenactments to make them “come alive.”
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Old 04-13-2011, 09:06 PM   #2
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They are still photos, you know. And I'm guessing in most if not all cases, the folks posing for the shots are not actors, but rather everyday normal people who might tend to be a bit nervous. It would be nice to see some old cars in some of these shots, but the logistics might not always be so easy on that. I'd love to be part of one in Roanoke or Spencer, but not with my finances right now.

My only gripe is a minor one. On some of the captions, I feel they try to get a little too cute with some of the ones like "N&W 611 makes a brief stop in Roanoke before going on eastward." But maybe that's just me.
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Old 04-13-2011, 09:08 PM   #3
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Yea, and please no more cleaning headlights, holding lanterns, etc. That crap is so overdone.

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An old car posed next to a crossing should have some dust or mud spatters and not look like it was carried in stuffed and mounted.
Especially in rural VA/WV
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Old 04-13-2011, 09:37 PM   #4
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Hi J,

Interesting topic.....

Getting authentic-looking reenactment photos is a heck of a lot more difficult than most folks may imagine. The people participating as actors in these shots have to be just that....not simply bodies in period clothing. They have to understand the activity they portray very well AND they need to understand something about acting in front of a camera. Non-railroaders don't typically understand the activity and railroaders often aren't the best actors. Finding good candidates is not easy. All too often, people have a tough time remembering to stand still, and they have a tendency to look at the cameras. All things considered, it is probably easier to train real railroaders to act than to train actors to look like railroaders. After all, the authentic folks do have a repertoire that includes things besides cleaning headlights.

Props are an equally difficult problem. Steam engines don't usually need much primping. They naturally look filthy, especially the coal-burners. Antique autos are a different story. Their owners generally keep them in "show" condition and while they are often enthusiastic about participating in reenactments, they aren't usually amenable to having their treasured pieces splattered with mud and road grime....and who can blame them. You have to take what you can get.

Lighting is another huge obstacle. It's far more complicated than slapping down some lights and shooting some pictures. The light sources need to all be of a consistent color temperature and need to be positioned so that the key elements of the shot are nicely lit without glare spots or dark shadows. At the same time, it can't look unrealistically bright, like it was done in a football stadium!

In my limited experience, the best reenactment shots don't usually come during organized night shoots featuring a gazillion foamers with tripods. Most scenes have a tiny sweet spot and anything shot outside that spot may be OK, but it won't be outstanding. The best reenactment shots IMHO come when a small group of people work with and take direction from one photographer who has a vision and is able to communicate that vision effectively to the participants. I've met some people who are very good at this. It is really fun to watch them at work.
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Old 04-13-2011, 10:51 PM   #5
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Kevin pretty much nailed what I was wanting to say. It's hard standing in one "authentic" pose for minutes at a time, without moving. It's even harder to convince somebody who spent their life savings on a classic vehicle to dirty it up for the sake of "authenticity".

And no matter what you do, it's still stuffed.

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Old 04-14-2011, 12:57 PM   #6
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Although some of the shots that are produced from such activities are good, to me they look exactly like what they are - posed and artificial.

Each to their own - to me, rail photography is about capturing a moment in time, and my favourite shots (taken by anyone) rely on the light for impact. Thats not to say there isn't merit elsewhere and if other things float your boat, thats fine by me
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Old 04-14-2011, 01:19 PM   #7
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I find them interesting and applaud all efforts. However, they rarely have the substance that would make you want to look at them time and time again...more of a one-time, "hey that's pretty cool."
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Old 04-15-2011, 11:31 AM   #8
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Just remember where this is. A museum, not an active railroad.
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Old 04-15-2011, 07:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hatchetman View Post
I find them interesting and applaud all efforts. However, they rarely have the substance that would make you want to look at them time and time again...more of a one-time, "hey that's pretty cool."
+1

I've often tried to verbalize what it is that doesn't work for me in these photos. I think it does come down to substance. The awareness they are organized events, deliberately set up to recreate an era that has already been documented makes me... uneasy... the creative photographer should be seeking new and original subject matter -- not plagiarizing the past, especially in such a contrived manner.

I mean, I'd rather look at actual pictures from the era rather than some artificial ones. At least I can tell myself it's an actual historical document.

Jean-Marc Frybourg's images from Chile is the best work I've seen on here in the past year. And many of his images carry on with an aesthetic style that is unique to his work. His is both a historical document and a creative statement.

Not to say nothing can be done at these events that is original. That would be a great disservice. So far it has only been a display of mere competence.
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Old 04-15-2011, 08:35 PM   #10
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To say they're plagarizing the past is way over the top. These guys want to do this. Someone sets them up and others pay for the privilege. As consumers, we don't have to click on the shots and no one has to sign up to participate. In some ways, it almost sounds like sour grapes from the guys that weren't there.

(And believe me, I know about sour grapes. I have to hold my fingers from typing something snarky every time someone mentions "going to Roanoke" on Facebook.)
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Old 04-15-2011, 09:17 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by NathBDP View Post
Jean-Marc Frybourg's images from Chile is the best work I've seen on here in the past year. And many of his images carry on with an aesthetic style that is unique to his work. His is both a historical document and a creative statement.
The majority of them are really great. Some of them I find myself wondering "how TF did that shot even get on, let alone 3000 hits"
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Old 04-15-2011, 09:55 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by NathBDP View Post
+1
I've often tried to verbalize what it is that doesn't work for me in these photos. I think it does come down to substance. The awareness they are organized events, deliberately set up to recreate an era that has already been documented makes me... uneasy... the creative photographer should be seeking new and original subject matter -- not plagiarizing the past, especially in such a contrived manner.
While there may be some limited instances in which photographers try to re-create a famous scene or event, my experience is that the vast majority of the organized night shoots aren't doing that at all. They are attempting to re-create an era and produce scenes that could have taken place in that era. I don't look at it as plagiarism in the slightest. I also wouldn't even begin to compare these reenactments to the work of JMF. They are two totally different things. JMF is photographing contemporary trains in parts of the world most of us will never see. He's not doing reenactments.

As for why most reenactment/re-creation shots seem to fall flat on RP (mine included ), I offer the following:
  • Most of these shots lack believability....the actors do a poor job or proper attention was not paid to details in the scene.
  • The shots lack powerful composition and/or artful lighting.
As noted in my previous post, finding good actors is difficult. Even when the actors are capable and the scene is well lit, there is a tiny sweet spot for that powerful composition. In an organized foamer-fest....uh....night shoot , most people will not get to the sweet spot. Some, like me, may not even be able to find it quickly. So, we blow it. I find big night-shoots both fun and exasperating at the same time.

I maintain that the best reenactment shots are typically not large scenes, or staged portraits, but portraits of people in action. Those are the ones that grab attention here. And guess what? They don't come out of organized "shoots". They come out of private sessions in which a good photographer has a vision AND access to the people and equipment. The photographer does not have to accept what's put in front of him/her. His/her "access" permits them to adjust the lighting, take shots from multiple angles and direct the actors until they get it right.

Take this one for example:
Image © Stephen Hussar
PhotoID: 342895
Photograph © Stephen Hussar

This is one of THE best reenactment portraits I've ever seen. I was fortunate to be present when it was taken. It was in the evening and there were just 4 railroaders, the photographer and myself. As I recall, just one supplemental light was used and the camera/lens was essentially the same stuff I carry. The key was that the photog had a vision and he effectively communicated that vision to the actors, who are all real railroaders and good friends of his. The result was very believeable and processed very nicely indeed. You're just not going to get this at a foamer-fest.

And OBTW, the articles you see around the gentleman in this photo....they're not props. That's the WW&F office and that's a genuine Western Electric Telephone that is tied to phone cabinets up the line. It's real. Someone implied that photos of people carrying lanterns looked phony to him. He may want to visit the WW&F sometime. They endeavour to simulate 1915. They use no radios except in emergencies. All signalling is done with hands, flags, whistles AND LANTERNS!!

There are plenty of other examples on the site. Some of them were indeed shot during "events", but I'll just about guarantee you they were done privately....meaning not everyone at the event got the opportunity to shoot that scene. A lone photographer who has access and control of the conditions, can indeed come up with some pretty compelling stuff and the view-counts prove it.....the one above just happened to grab a CRPA award as well.
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Old 04-15-2011, 10:11 PM   #13
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As for why most reenactment/re-creation shots seem to fall flat on RP (mine included ), I offer the following:
  • Most of these shots lack believability....the actors do a poor job or proper attention was not paid to details in the scene.
  • The shots lack powerful composition and/or artful lighting.
Agreed 100% (emphasis to the underlined part)

Quote:
Take this one for example:
Image © Stephen Hussar
PhotoID: 342895
Photograph © Stephen Hussar

This is one of THE best reenactment portraits I've ever seen.
Also agreed 100%

So many of the staged ones just look so damn fake/staged/bogus that it just makes me want to barf.

The point about not having good "actors", I would argue you dont need them to act at all, but to just do spontaneous "railroad" things (except cleaning the headlight). That being said, I have never taken part in one of those things, so I have no idea what goes on during them, what kind of access and opportunities you actually have to get real creative control of the scene without stepping on everyone else's toes.

I'm gonna link up a couple "unbelievable" ones IMHO. Not critisizing the execution or technical merits of the photograph, just the believability of it.

Image © Appalachian Railfan
PhotoID: 353601
Photograph © Appalachian Railfan

Image ©
PhotoID:
Photograph ©

Image © Franklin Adams
PhotoID: 309032
Photograph © Franklin Adams

Image © Pete Lerro - www.Lerroproductions.com
PhotoID: 304414
Photograph © Pete Lerro - www.Lerroproductions.com

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Old 04-15-2011, 10:43 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by KevinM View Post
While there may be some limited instances in which photographers try to re-create a famous scene or event, my experience is that the vast majority of the organized night shoots aren't doing that at all. They are attempting to re-create an era and produce scenes that could have taken place in that era. I don't look at it as plagiarism in the slightest. I also wouldn't even begin to compare these reenactments to the work of JMF. They are two totally different things. JMF is photographing contemporary trains in parts of the world most of us will never see. He's not doing reenactments.
You just reiterated my point. I didn't say anything about specific scenes or content, but rather a time period. Perhaps plagiarism is a strong word, but it seems like most of this stuff is trying to recreate the visual style of people like Winston Link, Jim Shaughnessy, et al. To me this is just backwater.

I brought up Jean Freybourg to illustrate a point, not draw a comparison. But you do draw an important distinction: he is creating something new and unseen whereas reenactments are just that, a novelty created so one can bask in nostalgia. I'm just not interested in the visual ideas it represents. For one, it has already been done to a masterful level. Two, it undermines creative growth. Learn from the past, but don't dwell in it.

The image you linked is a fine one, aside from the excessive local contrast enhancements. It shows fine composition and is pretty well lit (again, in a traditional style) It has good depth. All attributes fitting of a fine image. But to come back to Hatchetman's observation that these images lack the distinction of something new; and therefore, other than some fine surface ornament, has little intrinsic value.

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Old 04-15-2011, 11:07 PM   #15
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Fifty years from now, that reenactment will be a part of history as well. What's wrong with preservation and having a little fun with it? Here's an example and it was quite a bit of fun. I guess if you don't like it, you can do something else.

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Old 04-15-2011, 11:13 PM   #16
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But to come back to Hatchetman's observation that these images lack the distinction of something new; and therefore, other than some fine surface ornament, has little intrinsic value.
To you.
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Old 04-15-2011, 11:41 PM   #17
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This is just the old railfan "document" vs "artistic" photography debate.

I would say for most railfans, photography is just a means to an end which is to accurately "document" the moment you saw a piece of equipment.

For a much smaller group of railfans, the photograph is the thing. They want an "artistic" interpretation of what they see. Here the photograph, not the train, is what reigns as most important. The locomotive is but an element in the photographer's effort to convey the excitement of railroading.

Sometimes, both are the same thing and those photographs are perhaps the most successful of all. I would say that RP's POTW's are great examples of that combination.

I would also say it's a big hobby so we all should feel free to enjoy it however we like.

Ironically the railfan majority bias of "documenting" even infiltrates that bastion of creativity, the Center For Railroad Photography and Art.

Recently, Stephen's outstanding photograph, mentioned above

Image © Stephen Hussar
PhotoID: 342895
Photograph © Stephen Hussar


which was one of three part set...

http://www.railphoto-art.org/award2011/second.html

came in second place in CFRPA's 2011 contest largely because ..."Judge's Comment:
This set is arguably the most professionally done. The composition and lighting is by far the best of any set. It tells a clear story in a very dramatic way. I put it second only due to my own personal preference for “real” experiences rather than contrived ones." (my bold and italics)

As Kevin mentioned, Stephen's photograph's are records of actual activity on a working steam railroad.

I think the first place set of photos that won that contest had only the most tenuous of railroad connections.

My own transgressions of crossing the line into "contrived."

Image © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com
PhotoID: 341906
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com

Image © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com
PhotoID: 341905
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com

Image © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com
PhotoID: 341757
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 291831
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 256401
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 210598
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 210600
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 210606
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey


And lastly, to really drive you document guys nuts, here is one with genuine lamp polishing!

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 210603
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey


(Gee whiz, didn't realize I had so many of these here...)
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Old 04-15-2011, 11:48 PM   #18
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I add nothing to the artistic world, because I do not want to be copied...

Loyd L.

PS, there will be a polishing the headlight of a GP7 photo coming up soon..
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Old 04-16-2011, 01:26 AM   #19
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Actually, excuse my ignorance, but in the days of steam, or for that matter today, with what frequency was a headlight cleaned? How common was the now contrived night photo charter scene?

Image © Janusz Mrozek
PhotoID: 213534
Photograph © Janusz Mrozek


I'd like to think that the visible light bulb behind the glass of the headlight and the detail in the lenses on the other lights makes this one rise above the rest, but of course I know that is a hopeless, desperate argument.
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Old 04-16-2011, 01:59 AM   #20
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I enjoy these shots contrived or not they are a record of still operating [mostly] preserved equipment and a hats off to those that continue to provide the settings and lighting etc.

BTW welcome back J how was the trip?
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Old 04-16-2011, 03:12 AM   #21
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Ironically the railfan majority bias of "documenting" even infiltrates that bastion of creativity, the Center For Railroad Photography and Art.

Recently, Stephen's outstanding photograph, mentioned above

Image © Stephen Hussar
PhotoID: 342895
Photograph © Stephen Hussar


which was one of three part set...

http://www.railphoto-art.org/award2011/second.html

came in second place in CFRPA's 2011 contest largely because ..."Judge's Comment:
This set is arguably the most professionally done. The composition and lighting is by far the best of any set. It tells a clear story in a very dramatic way. I put it second only due to my own personal preference for “real” experiences rather than contrived ones." (my bold and italics)

As Kevin mentioned, Stephen's photograph's are records of actual activity on a working steam railroad.

I think the first place set of photos that won that contest had only the most tenuous of railroad connections.
What's with the judge for that competition this year? He seems clueless as to the genre of railroad photography, and his comments and critiques are really brief, almost insultingly so -- sounds like he didn't even care.

On Freybourg's pictures:

"Beautiful work, great setting. Not enough story."

What insight!
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Old 04-17-2011, 10:51 PM   #22
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I mean, I'd rather look at actual pictures from the era rather than some artificial ones. At least I can tell myself it's an actual historical document.
If you can get access to Stewie's time machine - go for it.



While we'd all rather look at actual pictures from specific eras, most of us have not yet found a way to travel back in time to those specific eras we so much admire.

Photo charters, such as Pete's, John's and others allow us to both do so, and to share such images with others who might not have ever been exposed to such fantastic scenes which more oft then not, are based on ACTUAL images taken accurately in the past.

Personally, I welcome any and all constructive ideas though I'll confirm what Kevin and others have stated - it ain't easy slopping up museum pieces and volunteers (not actors) and then asking them to pose for 20 minutes "naturally" without moving a muscle. It can be done, but not always at a cost most of us are willing to pay - routinely.

As for headlight cleanings - which pales in comparison to the children waving to the engineer type shots seen equally plentiful, I can attest to the legitimacy of such in this photo which was in fact, the real deal from the
current era!

Image © Mitch Goldman
PhotoID: 332279
Photograph © Mitch Goldman


Keep in mind, when 40 photographers come to an event to "take great shots like those I saw from the last event", most still, or for the first time, want certain specific shots such as the very shot in question.

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Old 04-17-2011, 11:00 PM   #23
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I would prefer a day shoot, that way the subjects can act natural and not posed. You tell them to pretend to do something and then its up to you to capture a good image.
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Old 04-17-2011, 11:27 PM   #24
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I would prefer a day shoot, that way the subjects can act natural and not posed. You tell them to pretend to do something and then its up to you to capture a good image.
I'm not sure the Museum will let us tear down an engine

Lerro Productions, Historic Transport Preservation, and others have done such, however, it would seem a greater number of patrons will opt (to pay) for a shoot at night where mood and dramatic lighting come to play. This is not to say daytime human interest shoots are not often considered or squeezed into part of a daytime photo shoot.

Image © Jeff Terry
PhotoID: 235154
Photograph © Jeff Terry


Where have all the daytime pics of Alaina and the cast of Rosie the Riveter gone?! Lol. Kevin? Pete? Either of the B's? For that matter, where are my own!

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Old 04-19-2011, 04:16 AM   #25
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Actually, excuse my ignorance, but in the days of steam, or for that matter today, with what frequency was a headlight cleaned? How common was the now contrived night photo charter scene?
First off, I've got to say, this is one of the most interesting topics of discussion I've seen on the forums and it brings up some great points. It has to be tough to figure out what "real" everyday railroading looked like in, say, 1930, because so few images exist. I mean, yeah you have the posed roster shots and maybe a few action shots, but some 80 years removed, it's hard to guess. But more power to those who try! I've never been on one of these charters, but I hope to attend a few in the future.

As for how often the headlight was cleaned? Who knows, although I've seen it happen a few times on shortlines, even just last week.

Just a few thoughts,

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