Recently I have been spending lots of time at a couple of sites in Durham, NC where I have been photographing railroad tracks. The two sites, one in East Durham near the old grain silos, the other near the new train station in downtown Durham, are both abandoned. The tracks have not been used in years. Ties are rotting, hardware is rusting, and vegetation is slowly reclaiming the tracks.
This current project is about those tracks, the old ones. The images are close examinations of what made the tracks work and survive. While it is a series about technology, it is also a series about human imagination. The images reflect the sculptural elements inherent in engineering solutions to technological problems. They also show the interplay between industrial production of components and manual installation of those same components. It is industrial perfection vs. human imperfection. In some sense there are ghosts of dead industries present in the images, references to defunct US manufacturers and former steel cities. Some of the older spikes might show hammer blows from some long-gone Gandy dancer while others show the precise marks of hydraulic drivers, the new robotic dancers that sing no songs but have work rhythms nevertheless. It is about progress and decay.
I have made a little slide show of some of the earliest images. You can find it at the Track Pix page on my website. This is only the beginning of a longer project that I hope will result in a show someday. For now the collection of images is growing and the project is taking on a life of its own.
In addition to making photographs of what I am seeing, I am also picking up little pieces of discards from years of track maintenance and track neglect. There are the railroad spikes, tie plates, track bolts, track anchors, and other odds and ends that I just pick up and bring home. Some of them have become parts of an ongoing sculptural exercise in my front yard. At some point these will be incorporated into a formal showing of photos and sculptures in some gallery or other public venue. That was a hint to any curators out there who might like to take this on.
As much as anything, this is about childhood vision. I am going back to a place I loved and seeing it all over again, through he same eyes, naive, full of wonder and fascination, but now with a sense of perspective. All the time I am hoping a real train will happen by while I am there. It never happens. Not on these tracks.
Like many kids, I had toy trains (after a certain age we started calling them "model" trains because "toys" were not cool) and all of the interest in trains that came with that youthful territory. In the real world though, I was always most fascinated with the tracks themselves. Sure the Locomotives and various cars were great, but for me the infrastructure was the most interesting part. I just loved the tracks. I used to walk along the very tracks that were recently torn up to make way for the American Tobacco Trail. I loved to walk them, even the trestle that crossed South Roxboro Street, a dangerous enterprise that has its own set of stories. Now that is where I ride my bike. The area is built up on all sides of the trail now. It is truly an urban trail. The temptation to leave it and wander around in the wilderness is gone.