Sunday, April 26, 2015

Through a Dirty Window -  fastly
A High-speed Train Ride from Shenyang to Beijing

Through a Dirty Window - fastly
418 pages, 8 X 9 X 26"

The images in this book come from a late afternoon/early evening train journey in
December 2013. The distance between the two cities is 440 miles (705 kilometers). It took about four and a half hours. At peek speeds we approached 152 mph/h (245 km/h), which was during much of the beginning of the trip. As we approached Beijing, the train slowed down but went still faster then almost anything in the United States. When the track gets totally upgraded, the line will have a maximum design speed of 350 km/h, though regular services will operate around 200 to 300 km/h. Travel time between Shenyang and Beijing will be cut from the current 4 hours plus to just 2 hours and 17 minutes.

            During prior train trips in China I had made attempts to photograph through the windows with very limited success. Doing so is still quite a challenge. The windows may be smudgy and reflection presents problems . Not the least problem is traveling very fast-- “fastly,” which isn’t really a word but I love to use it anyway. This time I had a new Camera; a Canon 5D Mark III that worked wonderfully. It had a significant shutter speed and ISO improvements and capabilities over my old camera. The sun was beginning to set and I had limited control over which way to point the camera. I could only shoot images during the first half of the journey but had to quit when it finally got too dark. As the trip progressed, I had to keep upping the ISO until I maxed out at 24,000. The shutter speed was very high, starting at 1/600 sec then quickly increasing to 1/1250 sec. The pictures became progressively grainy and noisy in a very beautiful kind of a way. It was one of those very special kinds of “China Grey” winter days, the kind for which the country is becoming well known. Every once in a while the sun would come out of the grey and glow orange onto the landscape.

            I organized the pictures in triptychs as they happened sequentially. The title of each triptych notes the actual time the picture was taken. Sometimes there were many pictures taken in just one minute because the view of the landscape was changing so dramatically. I tried to concentrate more on the landscape, which I found to be so eerily beautiful. We passed by rice farms, cornfields and fish farms. We would go into and out of various sized villages and towns. The trees in the foreground  would often be blurred. Meanwhile, the landscape in the background would remain in sharper focus. The images evidenced a sense of motion as they spread across the page. The quality of the cropping would be sometimes arbitrary because of the way I could hold the camera to get the images. In the end that added an interesting dynamic to the project as the point of view made the sense of movement and the passing of time evident.

            I feel fortunate in capturing these pictures at that time. It was winter the lack of leaves on the trees opened up the view. I felt I captured a unique point in time and history. China is changing so rapidly that many things are disappearing. As more cottonwood trees get planted along the rails as environmental barriers, some of these views will be obscured in the future.

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