trainspotting (blog)

Just a guy with a camera

CP 6552 muscling the downtown-bound Express job past Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke, Ontario, 21:30, December 12, 1983.

CP 6552 muscling the downtown-bound Express job past Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke, Ontario, 21:30, December 12, 1983.

By every reasonable definition the enclosed is a photographic failure: a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to exceed the limitations of talent and the technology of the day. In fact, save for the convenience of cutting and filing negatives in even-length strips, this single frame wouldn’t have made it out of the darkroom.

But it did. And after languishing unprinted and unseen for 32 years, it’s a happy discovery. For all its imperfection the blurred, barely recognizable image etched in Plus-X Pan emulsion gives life to a scribbled entry in my notes: “December 12, 1983, Etobicoke, Ont., Kipling Ave., 21:30 … CP 6552 straining with long intermodal transfer. Beautiful 539 acoustics! Wooden van, CP 436998.”

The blurry photograph and accompanying few words deliver a jarring one-two punch that shakes vivid memories from the far recesses of an aging mind. Memories of standing spellbound as the “Express Job” comes trudging along the multi-track Galt Sub main with a 27-year-old S3 doing its best to muscle a heavy downtown-bound train of piggybacks and express.

It’s a pulse-quickening performance. The little S3’s normally aspirated, inline-six McIntosh & Seymour 539 engine sounds as if it’s about to explode from behind the rattling hood doors that shroud it from view. In a fit of adrenaline-fueled enthusiasm I can’t resist the impulse to at least attempt − however futile − to put the drama to film.

From a photographic perspective, it was indeed an exercise in futility. But the image itself fulfills one of the most elementary objectives that first inspired me to pick up a camera more than 50 years ago: it captures a moment in time, an experience worth remembering.

All of which plays into the topic of a discussion I had recently with a couple friends while travelling the back roads of Wales. The more I reflect on a half-century-plus of photography, the less comfortable I am with considering myself a photographer. At least not in the sense of the true and so incredibly talented photographers I’m fortunate enough to know and call friends. My primary photographic goals have always tended more toward capturing and sharing a sense of time and place, an experience, an emotion. Consider me just a guy with a camera. I’m comfortable with that.

greg mcdonnellComment