One of the best-known railroad photographers of the modern age, Jim Shaughnessy began his prolific photography career in 1946 capturing images of steam locomotives in his hometown of Troy, New York.
Over the next decade and a half he made numerous trips in pursuit of steam throughout the eastern United States, the far West, the Canadian provinces, and Mexico. He would go on to document the dramatic steam-to-diesel transition, capturing the trains, depots, workers, roundhouses, and back shops that made up the American railroad landscape. In later decades he faithfully recorded the changing fortunes of railroading in the Northeast as merger and contraction affected the industry.
The distinct beauty of Shaughnessy’s images owes to his having broken with traditional pictorial devices and with his development of specialized techniques, including the long exposure and nighttime open-flash images that would set his work apart. Shaughnessy made conscious decisions to see beyond trains, embracing the “ugly beauty” of industrial environments. Relying on intuition and passion, Shaughnessy’s aesthetic choices demonstrated the desire to include the human element, the desire to place trains and locomotives in a broader context, and the desire to explore the railroad after dark. His content-filled compositions capture a sense of place and a sense of time, describing in well-observed moments how the engines, railroaders, terminals, yards, station architecture, geography, and landscape looked. Over the course of his fifty-year career, Shaughnessy made a major contribution to the aesthetic development of railroad photography in America in the second half of the twentieth century.
The Center for Railroad Photography & Art produced the exhibition The Call of Trains: Railroad Photographs by Jim Shaughnessy in conjunction with the book of same title by Shaughnessy and Jeff Brouws (W.W. Norton, 2008). Based out of Madison, Wisconsin, the Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profits arts and education organization that operates primarily through exhibitions, conferences, and publications to construct an understanding of railroading’s importance in the development of the United States. The Center is a membership organization, open to all. Its quarterly publication, Railroad Heritage, is a benefit of membership. To learn more about its programs and how to join, visit: www.railphoto-art.org
Jeff Brows, consultant
Natalie Krecek, archives assistant
Scott Lothes, executive director
Hailey Paige, exhibitions coordinator
Adrienne Evans, archives manager
Inga Velten, development director