Brian Solomon is among the most prolific and well-known names in railroad photography, with his work spanning across two decades. He is also among the most prolific names in railroad publishing. He has authored and illustrated more than 60 books on railroads, including: Rails Around the World, Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe, Railway Depots Stations & Terminals, Railroad Signaling, and North American Railroad Bridges. Presently he is the Manager of Marketing and Events for the Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire.
Brian earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Photographic Illustration with a minor in the History of Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY. His work experience includes photo lab management and commercial photography, including work for Southern Pacific and a stint as a contract staff photographer at Travis Air Force Base in California. Between 1994 and 1996, he worked for Pentrex Publishing, serving as an Associate Editor for Passenger Train Journal and as Editor for Pacific RailNews. He appears on and narrates portions of the television production How Trains Changed the World by Discovery Channel UK. He is also a co-patent holder on a distinctive photographic process designed for high-density data storage.
Brian writes a monthly column for Trains Magazine. His articles and photography have appeared in many rail magazines including Trains Magazine, Railway Age, Railroad Explorer, Railfan & Railroad, National Railroad Historical Society Bulletin, Germany’s Modelleisenbahner, the Journal of the Irish Railway Record Society, and the UK’s Rail Magazine. Brian also produces a daily blog about railroad photography–see: http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/.
On his style and approach to railroad photography, Brian Solomon describes his craft in his own words: “My photography has been natural pursuit. I am a second-generation photographer and my parents placed cameras in my hands from the time I could stand. Likewise, I have always been drawn to railways and I began my railway photography at a very early age, often traveling with my father, Richard Jay Solomon. He credits my earliest photograph as an abstract image of an approach aspect displayed by a Penn Central signal along the former New Haven Railroad Shoreline route near East Haven, Connecticut exposed on Ektachrome before I was six years old.”
He continues, “My interests in railways and photography have always been intertwined. My quests for knowledge about my subjects has led me to thoroughly study them while taking every opportunity to expose photographs. My eagerness to learn about photography led me to process my own film by the age of nine, and on my tenth birthday my father presented me with a pre-war Leica 3A screw-mount rangefinder: a camera that I carried with me everywhere. I was the kid with a camera and photographed everyone and everything, with an emphasis on trains and railways. Unlike fully automated modern cameras, my Leica required a degree of skill to manipulate successfully. Simply loading the film into the camera required patience. To make images, this compact 35mm camera had three controls: shutter speed, aperture and focus. The viewfinder with which to line up the image was a tiny hole that only gave me an approximation of the field of view. Focusing was through a separate hole where I would line up two overlayed ghosted images. The handicap of working with this camera, while using a handheld light-meter to gauge exposure, forced me to really study my subject, while the act of processing and printing my own photos helped me better comprehend the relationships of light, focus, depth of field and composition.”
“Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed observing and traveling on railways,” explains Brian. “When possible I’ve obtained insider’s views, spending countless hours in switch towers and dispatching offices, riding on passenger trains, in locomotive cabs, and occasionally cabooses and permanent way equipment. I’ve learned railroading through the study of rulebooks, timetables, and company literature, as well as the wealth of commercially produced books and magazines.”
“I’ve sought out railroaders and photographers to better understand their work. In the 1980s, my interest in New York Central led me to seek out Ed Nowak, the former company photographer; later my interest in Southern Pacific led me to seek out photographers including Richard Steinheimer and J. D. Schmid (also an SP dispatcher). I have routinely traveled with fellow photographers to learn their views of the intricacies of railway operations and photographic technique. I take visual inspiration from master photographers, but also great painters such as J.M.W. Turner.”
“Over the years, I perfected my black & white technique, refined my color photography using Kodachrome and Fujichrome films, and later adopted various digital formats. With each media, I’ve aimed to push it to the limits of what it can record.”
“My railway photography has always been about the whole railway experience. I’ve aimed to document the railway in its environment, its people, locomotives and rolling stock, buildings, bridges and signaling. The exercise of photography extends beyond the immediate need for individual images, and I work to continually ad to a body of work that spans decades, often photographing trains, people and places repeatedly over many years.”
This pursuit has brought Brian to more than thirty nations, led him to photograph countless aspects of railway workings, and so far contributed to his authoring and illustrating more than 60 books on railroading. With such a popular influence of railroading imagery on mainstream America and among railroad literature spanning nearly two decades, Brian Solomon is a worthy recipient of the R&LHS Photography Award in 2022.