This fall, a new photography exhibit will be on display at Temple’s Railroad and Heritage Museum. Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden will be on display September 1 - December 9. On loan from the Center for Railroad Photography and Art in Madison, Wisconsin, the exhibit features 30 meticulously crafted black and white photographs all taken by David Plowden. Plowden is widely acknowledged as one of America's great landscape and industrial photographers. "Requiem for Steam" is his tribute to the end of the steam era on American and Canadian railroads.
Plowden first pointed a camera, his mother’s box Brownie camera, down a railroad track in 1943 when he was eleven years old. Although he did not know it at the time, he had just discovered his life’s work, his passion. For the next sixteen years Plowden photographed steam locomotives at every opportunity. He earned a degree in economics from Yale University with the hopes of working in railroad management, spending a year as an assistant to the trainmaster on the Great Northern Railway in Minnesota. At work, he learned railroading and rode trains, then used his days off to photograph some of the GN’s last steam operations.
It was through his pursuit of photographing locomotives that Plowden hit upon the notion of becoming a photographer. He worked as an apprentice to O. Winston Link and studied with Minor White and Nathan Lyons before striking off on his own. In 1959-60, he pursued the end of steam on the Canadian Pacific Railway, having been granted open access to the entire system. His devotion took him to the most far-flung reaches of the CPR’s Atlantic Region where he quite literally bore witness to some of the last breaths of steam on North American mainlines.
After the advent of diesel locomotives’ dominance, Plowden trained his cameras on myriad facets of American industry and infrastructure. Through all his career, the railroad has remained a common thread. The photographs in "Requiem for Steam" preserve the living beauty of his beloved locomotives while continuing to show the railroad’s presence in the ever-changing American landscape.
Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden can be viewed with regular admission to the museum, Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and is part of the regular schedule of changing exhibits at the museum. The Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum is located at 315 W. Avenue B in downtown Temple.
Central Vermont Railway Extra 464 North Meets Extra 472 South, Amherst, MA 1954
Photograph copyright David Plowden, courtesy of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art