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
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.