BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens

Author:  Colin Boocock

Total Number of Pages: 255

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 7

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In this volume’s Preface, the author makes the following statement: ‘This book serves a modern need…by showing how anyone interested in railways can photograph them, and can keep up-to-date throughout a long photographic career as technology improves’. He then notes that ‘The book is also a celebration. The year 2017 marks the seventieth anniversary of the year in which I took my first railway photograph, 1947’. These statements are an excellent precis for what is to follow.

This volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts Picture Book’ genre of railway publications. However, unlike many of that genre, it has the bonus of both a well-written and very readable narrative and several sections about the actual process of railway photography; the latter being something rarely encountered within such books.

Within the volume itself, an Acknowledgements page placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who contributed to the volume, while clarifying the matter of Copyright in respect of the small number of images that are not the author’s own. The author also notes that within the volume his ‘…Views are based on his own experience and cannot be attributed to the publisher or its agents’. A Preface follows. Within it the author simultaneously explains the volume’s rationale and clarifies various technical matters relating to the photographic equipment he has used over the years. The Preface is followed in turn by an Introduction within which the reader is introduced to both the origins of the author’s photographic passion and to descriptions of the various types of railway photography and the unique technical difficulties and solutions associated with these. The eight Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume follow the Preface. Each Chapter covers a specific decade (for example The 1940s; The 2000s etc.). The Chapters are arranged in a standard format consisting of several pages of explanatory text outlining the author’s photographic adventures during that time, followed by a selection of photographs relevant to the narrative.  While initially the photographs are monochrome, over time (and as colour film became less expensive), these become increasingly of coloured format. Helpfully, and at the beginning of each collection of photographs, the author provides details of the camera/s used to take the images that are to follow. The Chapters are in turn followed by four Appendices.  According to the author ‘These appendices draw on my experience over the years’, and are devoted to the ’technical’ aspects of photography.  A two-line Postscript conveys St. Augustine’s thoughts on travel. It is the volume’s final section.  The book contains neither Index or Maps, nor a list of the photographs within it.

Unfortunately while this volume is both well-written and copiously illustrated, for this reviewer it is badly let down by the lack of an Index, with the additional lack of any Maps serving to compound the problem. In this reviewer’s opinion, without the assistance of an Index, it is unreasonable to expect a casual reader to (for example) know where an image of Ryde Pier Head (page 47) might be found, where a Eurostar (page 153) is located within the volume, or where to look to learn about Mobile phones as a useful photographic device (pages 242-243). The absence of such assistance reduces this volume to essentially a ‘Collection of Pretty Pictures’ with some useful words thrown in – if the latter can be found! A similar situation pertains to the lack of Maps; where (for instance) is Grindleford (page 81) or AoBaoGou (page 177)? The average reader (especially if they are a layman) cannot be expected to have to repeatedly confer with refer to an atlas when perusing this volume. Again, this lack reduces the volume’s value, particularly to the ‘off-shore’ reader not familiar with the geography of the British Isles (the book’s primary area of focus).

Because it provides a unique photographic record of the period 1947-2017, there is no doubt that this volume will appeal to readers with an interest in the railways of Great Britain over that time. In many instances, the images capture now-departed aspects of British culture, and as a result, Social Historians might also find the volume useful as a research tool. Photographers and railway modellers are likely to find the images and articles relating to their interests useful, with the qualified assumption (due to the lack of an Index) that they can actually locate such material. Non -‘railway enthusiast’ readers looking for pictures of ‘pretty trains’ might also find it worthy of their attention. In summary: An excellent, well written and very informative volume; a shame about the Index and Maps

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ocean Liners: An Illustrated History’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Ocean Liners: An Illustrated History

Author: Peter Newall

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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In his Foreword to this volume, Dr Stephen M. Payne describes this book in the following manner: ‘Ocean Liners provides a very informative voyage through the history of many of the ships, the advancing technologies that drove innovation and the companies that operated them’. It is a reasonable summation.

The volume opens with the previously-mentioned Foreword. Placed after the Contents page, this is in turn followed by the author’s Introduction in which he precis’ what is to follow and explains that what he has ‘…Tried to achieve with this book is a balanced coverage of the 100-year history of ocean liners…’ An Acknowledgements section on the same page thanks those who assisted with the book’s creation. The nine Chapters which form the bulk of the volume then follow. These cover the development of the ocean liner from its Nineteenth Century origins to its final demise in the 1970’s. Within each Chapter, subsections provide information about a specific technological or historical development, each subsection being accompanied by one (sometimes two), monochrome photographs of vessels which are relevant to the specific narrative. An Index completes the work.

The volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts Picture Book’ genre and it consequently contains numerous photographs. These are of high quality and have reproduced well. They are however, unsourced. Numerous shipping companies are mentioned within the text, many being abbreviated; P&O (the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) being one such example. There is however, no central list for either the Companies or the abbreviations. There are no maps.  The volume’s Index contains the names of those vessels which appear as illustrations within it. Where a named / illustrated vessel’s sisters are mentioned in the context of the narrative, these are frequently (but not always) omitted from the Index; Lhasa, Lama and Lunka (page 47) being a case in point. The inclusion or omission of such names appears to be random. Curiously, where a vessel has been renamed (and the new name is  specifically mentioned within the narrative), no Index entry for the new name appears. For readers who might know only the ‘rename’, this lack could prove problematic when undertaking a search. The owning Companies, the builders who constructed them and their countries of origin are also not mentioned. While it is probable that such information will be found within the volume, the absence of relevant Index entries renders this invisible to the reader.  With no certainty that what is being searched for actually exists, for this reviewer this lack is a major failing. It will  inevitably impact on the volume’s usefulness as a reference source. In addition, and although various ‘nautical’ terms are used throughout the volume, no interpretative Glossary is provided. What (for example) does the abbreviation ‘gt’ mean, and what is a ‘knot’? In the absence of an explanation, the layman-reader cannot know.

This is a ‘Beautiful’ book; the images being a pleasure to look at.  As a result it may well appeal to readers (even those with little nautical interest) who seek beautiful black and white images of beautiful ships. Serious researchers may however be disappointed, the previously-mentioned ‘difficulties’ with the Index et al making searching for specific information more of a chore than should be necessary. Ship Modellers with an interest in specific passenger vessels are likely to find this volume a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ocean Liners: An Illustrated History’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives

Author: Fred Kerr

Total Number of Printed Pages: 126

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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Although to the General Public ‘Preserved’ steam locomotives are epitomised by such well-known machines as Flying Scotsman, there are other steam locomotives which are equally interesting and worthy of attention. These are the ‘Industrials’; the small steam engines which have invariably worked tirelessly in largely-unknown areas and industries. They have a definite charm of their own and can be equally fascinating. Yet despite this, these engines are still largely overlooked. This volume is an attempt to remedy that situation and, in summary is ‘… Dedicated to those builders whose products are still in use many years after being built…’

This book is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre. It is a collection of colour photographs of small industrial steam locomotives built by 25 different British manufacturers. The photographs are beautiful and for those merely seeking high-quality images of small and colourful steam locomotives, this could be incentive-enough to purchase this volume. Those with a more technical interest in the subject are not left out however. As previously noted, this volume consists of 26 sections; (there being no ‘Chapters’ in the accepted sense). These are listed alphabetically on the Contents page, and are repeated as ‘Section’ headings. However, when creating these headings (and to delineate each section) the author has employed a curious form of two or three-letter abbreviations. These include (for example), AB (for Andrew Barclay Sons and Company); GR (for Grant Richie & Company) and WCI (Wigan Coal & Iron Company). As such items are not normally found in published works, they are possibly the author’s invention, perhaps created to record details in his notebooks. Their use in a published work makes for an untidy Contents page and, in the opinion of this reviewer, brings an amateurish look to the section headings. The Contents page is in turn followed by an untitled page which provides a very brief history of industrial steam locomotive construction in Great Britain. The ‘Photographic’ part of the volume then follows. Within this, each ‘Section’ commences with three self-explanatory sub-headings (titled Date Established, Location and History).  These are followed by a single paragraph listing the specific-manufacturer’s locomotives that have been preserved, and their location within the British Isles.  Although each locomotive-builder’s product is portrayed by at least one colour photograph, several have received photographs in the 12-20 image range, However, 60 photographs have been taken of the products of one manufacturer (Hunslet), with the qualification that that Company’s products are divided into two sections: Austerity Locomotives and Industrial locomotives. Each photograph is clearly captioned, and frequently-contains additional information relating to the specific locomotive it portrays or the event at which it was appearing when the image was taken. However, as some images have been transposed, it is advisable to check that captions refer to the specific locomotive in the photograph. In addition to the captions, an accompanying paragraph details the history of the individual locomotive. No Maps or an Index are provided. Regrettably, the author provides no details about the cameras or methods he used when taking the photographs.

As previously noted, this volume is of the ‘Picture book’ genre. As such it is beautiful, with the photographs being of frameable quality. It is little more. The absence of an Index requires readers to undertake unnecessary (and probably fruitless) searching, while the lack of any Maps means that the reader has no idea where the photographs were taken. This can be an especially frustrating situation for ‘off-shore’ readers for who maps are a necessary adjunct to their reading. .

Because of the quality of the images, it is possible that this book may have a wider appeal beyond the railway world; perhaps to readers who simply like quality images of small steam locomotives; or want something to share with children who are fans of Thomas the Tank Engine. It is also likely to appeal to ‘generalist’ railway enthusiasts, although those with a specific interest in preserved British industrial steam locomotives in contemporary settings are likely to find it a delight. Railway modellers with a specific interest in the subject may also find it of use.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives’

Book Review: ‘Storm Chaser’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Storm Chaser

Authors: Mike Olbinski

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192*

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): Photographs: 9, Text: 2

*There are no page numbers within this volume.

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If ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, then for many people, storms of any sort are not beautiful.  Instead, they are things of fear, destruction and general mayhem. ‘They are definitely not to be appreciated as ‘Things of beauty’. Mike Olbinski would beg to differ.

This volume is unashamedly a ‘Picture book of storms’: Dust storms, Electrical storms, Thunder storms and Tornadoes. Lightning strikes abound, as towering banks of clouds, many in full-colour and of immense dimensions.  The book is beautifully illustrated and although concentrating on storms in Arizona (the author’s home state) it also contains examples of storms photographed in the adjacent states of New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Colorado. If a reader is seeking beautiful and impressive photographs of cloudscapes, lightning strikes, dust storms and tornados in a western-American setting, then this book will certainly meet those requirements.

If however a reader is seeking details about (for example), storm formation, cameras and ‘how to chase storms’, this volume will be of little value.

Within the book a two-page Introduction appears before the photographic section which comprises the majority of the book’s content. In the Introduction, the author explains how he came to be internationally-known for his storm photographs and about his passion for his work.  The photographic section follows. This section’s format is one where (with four exceptions),  a full-page A4-sized photograph is placed on the right-hand page and text on the facing (left-hand) page. The latter invariably consists of personal reminiscences relative to the image and how it came to be photographed. In some instances a three-page sequence of images is provided. When this occurs, only the first page of the set follows the previously-mentioned format. The images that follow invariably fill the entire pages and do not contain captions. Several black and white images appear within the volume, largely to emphasise aspects of a specific storm. On the pages where the previously-mentioned ‘exceptions’ are located, a white border has been placed above and below the images. The reason for this is not known. The volume contains no Page Numbers, Table of Contents, Maps or Index. It is a ‘picture book’ pure and simple and no effort has been made to assist the reader in any way. No attempt is made to explain the meteorological causes of the various storms that have been photographed. A Glossary to explain the technical terms, abbreviations and terminology scattered throughout the book would have been helpful. Readers aspiring to emulate the author and chase storms in their own particular region or country will look in vain for any technical information concerning cameras or for ‘how-to’ tips concerning storm chasing.

Buyers who want beautiful pictures of clouds, lightning, tornadoes, thunderstorms and dust storms are likely to be well-pleased with this book.

That this volume has spectacular photographs of storms is undeniable, but for this reviewer it  lacks what he considers to be the most basic of items, Page Numbers being a case in point. It is on this basis that he has given it the rating appearing below:

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9, the text: 2.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing: Contact nzcrownmines @gmail.com

 

Book Review: ‘Storm Chaser’