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Trainspotting and Time

February 23, 2013

I’m working on a personal project that is a photographic retrospective of my years living and working in England in the 60’s. Those years were significant time in my life and influenced me in many ways. The images are from black and white film, which was all I could afford back then. Also, I could only afford to print specific images, so these films have been stored since then and mostly unprinted. I’m scanning and looking at them all now, and uncovering some memories and interesting documentary images of the time. The following is one such record.


I have a bit of a passion for trains. I love riding in them and watching them. I especially like watching steam engines. In February 1967, a steam train enthusiasts club ran a special train tour around England with a Merchant Navy Class steam engine. It stopped at Manchester Piccadilly Station so that trainspotters could have a look. The Merchant Class was a large engine used for pulling fast passenger trains in southern England, but steam engines had been retired from that work for several years. This particular engine was on its last operational run before being sent to the scrap yard in March of that year.

Looking at two photographs that I took of the train, I found it interesting to compare those scenes with what I might see in the same scenes today.

First, the image with the boys. That is a group of 13-14 year olds, in the centre of Manchester, on their own, enjoying the thrill of seeing a large steam engine and talking to the engineer and fireman. I’m not sure parents would permit boys of this age to wander to the centre of such a large, industrial city today on their own. Further, I’m not sure there are many 13-14 year olds that would bother to travel from their homes to the centre of the city to witness such an event. If there was a chance they were interested, they would wait until someone posted it on YouTube.

Next, the image with the men inspecting the engine. As this is Manchester, I am sure that many of the men you see in the photograph are design engineers or in some trade, so they understood the working mechanisms of the engine. What is interesting to me is what you don’t see. Notice that there was not one camera being used. Those men were there to look and take in the moment. Most of them would not have considered spending their hard-earned money on cameras and film.

Today the crowd would be festooned with cameras of all kinds. Expensive DSLRs, point and shoot cameras, and many of the ubiquitous cell phone cameras. The cameras would be held high and flashes would be firing every couple of seconds. In addition to all that still photo equipment, there would be a collection of people with video cameras recording every second of the event.

What an interesting difference.



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