Discovering The Hidden

I did another drive-by photographic session yesterday. What I’m talking about is seizing a chance to take photographs by discovering opportunities to shoot that are unplanned. What I really mean is that I took a few minutes during my drive home after a breakfast meeting to grab a few shots. And here are some of the results.

What are you seeing above? It’s the end of an old box car–one of two cars–that’s been incorporated into a small building in a fenced industrial yard. The shed sides were sheathed with galvanized steel, most of which has fallen off exposing the bare wood, and the stubs of power line betray the abandonment of this structure. The yard itself looks run down, disused.

It was the sides of the shed, the contrast between the galvanized steel and the rough wood, that attracted me in the first place. I’m a sucker for texture. You can see what got my attention below.

While I was framing the shot, the owner of the business across the street became interested in what I was doing. Saturday morning meant the area was mostly deserted, and these days even an innocent photographer can arouse suspicion. A few years ago the unasked question would be: “Why would that idiot be taking of a picture of that?” Now the unvoiced suspicions are likely to be: “What is that person doing and just why is he doing it? Is there something going on?”

When I saw him watching, I wandered over to allay his fears, saying I was just shooting some pictures of that old shed. “Ah,” he told me, “photographing the old box cars.” I agreed and had a bit of a chat about his business; he rents and sells used containers, the kind you see on special flatcars in trains. There is irony in that I think. Containerized freight has mostly taken over the jobs previously done by the box car fleet, and just as older box cars were retired to other uses, their replacements are also aging and being repurposed.

I wrote above that I agreed with his assessment of my motives. I lied. When I looked back at the shed, I thought to myself, “I’ll be damned. There really are box cars in that thing.” There were hidden in plain site, hidden because I wasn’t looking for them.

I took several photographs, even a long shot of the area using a fisheye, and then wandered on home. But discovering those hidden cars made me think a bit.

How much of our photography…even our life…is built around bits and pieces from our past? Just as those box cars formed the main structure of that shed, even though hidden beneath a veneer of galvanized steel, how much of our personal structure is built on our experiences? We may think we’ve changed, matured, through our lives, but I’m more confident than ever that what we lived through in second grade still strongly shapes us. And I’m confident that my past experiences have shaped what and how I photograph.

Why didn’t I see those box cars? The end of a box car, with its horizontal ribs, is easily recognized, and it was very common to repurpose rail cars. You can see old reefers, box cars, and even passenger cars scattered near where a railroad once ran–even miles away from the line. A quick look at older farms often reveals a box car, often in bad shape, that’s been turned into some sort of outbuilding. Passenger cars converted into diners are so iconic that copies that never were near rails are being made. And these box cars were less than a block from a main line. I should have expected to see their use as sheds. But I didn’t spot them.

Realizing that we all incorporate bits and pieces of our past into our current persona, it struck me that I should spend more time looking for evidence of that in other people. Maybe if I started looking at their underlying structure I would be more understanding and accepting of their makeup.

Maybe I’ll even understand more of myself.



This entry was posted in Opinion, Photography, Railroad.

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