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In the 1890s Philadelphia's preeminent photographer, William H. Rau, was commissioned to take more than 450 photographs along the routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad in order to promote travel on the railway to the general public. Known as "the standard railroad of the world," the PRR was the largest rail system in the East and linked metropolitan New York and Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and such industrial cities of the Midwest as Chicago and St. Louis.
Using a mammoth view camera that made 18-inch by 22-inch glass negatives, Rau produced a spectacular series of images for the railroad's promotional use. The remarkably detailed and texturally rich albumen prints, on deposit at The Library Company of Philadelphia, display a harmony between the railroad and the natural and industrial landscapes through which the line passed. The collection includes striking views not just of railcars, tracks, and stations but also of cities and towns, bridges, ferry boats, rivers, canals, factories, residences, and hotels, mostly in Pennsylvania, but with some views also of New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.
This oversize volume reproduces almost 100 of the photographs, carefully selected for their historical and artistic significance, as full-page quadtone images, capturing the impact of the originals as closely as possible. The photographs are arranged in geographical order along the various branches of the PRR, and each photograph is accompanied by a descriptive caption provided by PRR expert James J. D. Lynch, Jr. In the three essays that complement the photographs, Kenneth Finkel details Rau's career and early commercial photography, Mary Panzer places Rau and his PRR photographs in the context of the history of American landscape photography, and John R. Stilgoe discusses the advent of railroad advertising photography and its role in shaping perceptions of the American landscape.
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Contributors: Kenneth Finkel is Executive Director of Arts and Culture Service at WHYY, Inc., Philadelphia's public television and radio station. He was formerly Curator of Prints and Photographs of the Library Company of Philadelphia. The late James J. D. Lynch, Jr. was an officer of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society. Mary Panzer, an independent scholar, was Curator of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. She is author of Mathew Brady and the Image of History. John R. Stilgoe is Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape, Harvard University. Among his many books are Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places and Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene. John C. Van Horne is Librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia. He has edited numerous volumes, including Latrobe's View of America, 1795-1820 and The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. Eileen E. Drelick is Research Administrator with Blank Rome Comisky and McCauley LLP. She worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and its successors from 1966 to 1991.From The New Yorker:
In the eighteen-nineties, William H. Rau, a leading Philadelphia photographer, turned an advertising assignment for the Pennsylvania Railroad into a major artistic project. Using a specially adapted railway car and two colossal cameras, he photographed everything from the mahogany interiors of luxury cars to freight yards, tunnels, and switch towers. His grandest effects are achieved in meticulously composed studies of the landscape traversed by the railroad—a panorama in the Allegheny Mountains, a log boom on the Susquehanna, the arches of Conestoga Bridge mirrored in the creek below—but in Rau's lens even the most ordinary railway junction becomes a Euclidean marvel of intertwining lines.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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