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Sandhouse presents George Hamlin

Wally Abbey visits Cincinnati Union Terminal

As one the preeminent railroad photographers of the Twentieth Century, Wallace “Wally” Abbey had a front row seat to the planning and construction of some of America’s preeminent railroad terminals. With his press credentials as associate editor for Trains magazine, Abbey took his camera behind the scenes in railyards and terminals across the country, taking thousands of photographs of train cars, locomotives, terminals and the equipment that kept it all moving.  Abbey was, at various points in his life, a journalist, railroader, and public relations man. He took his first photograph of a train in 1940 when he was just 13 years old.  Throughout his life, Abbey put his varied talents to great use, capturing the majesty of railroad terminal architecture while also making art of work photographs. He showcased photos of rail equipment, the workers, and the throngs of passengers who rode the trains while having scant notion of the immensity of the operation that served them.  

George Hamlin, an aviation consultant and lifelong railroad aficionado, made a colorful presentation to the Sandhouse Rail Group on April 12 at NUTC. Hamlin’s presentation featured key photographs from Abbey’s body of work, most notably his 1935 visit on behalf of Trains magazine to the Cincinnati Union Terminal. Completed in 1933, the Terminal is an Art Deco structure of such grandeur that railroaders have nicknamed it “the Temple of Transportation.”

Hamlin noted how deftly Abbey used “lines, light, forms and shapes to catch the viewer’s eye and direct it around the photograph” of the terminal’s grand entrance, concourses, platforms, and, of course, train cars and locomotives.  Hamlin credits Abbey’s “intuitive sense of what makes a great picture” for how well his work still resonates today.  To illustrate scale, Abbey photographed a worker’s hand on a giant rail car coupling. He used triangles in his pictures—formed by rail cars, canopies, afternoon shadows, and people’s bodies—to exhibit tension and activity. Shooting trains from the platform looking far forward toward the first car, Abbey perfected the “vanishing point” technique in rail photography, which conveys pending movement and more broadly, what’s next and what’s possible for the passengers and freight on the train.

Wally Abbey passed away in 2014. His family donated his collection of 23,000 black and white negatives and 8,000 color slides that he shot between 1940 and the 2000s to the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, based in Madison, Wisconsin.  Abbey took photos all over the US, but most of his work was from the Chicago area, where he lived, and the Upper Midwest, in particular the Soo Line and Milwaukee Road railroads.

Learn more: Hamlin Transportation Consulting
Future seminars: TC Seminar Series

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