Apr 19

Review: Railway Portraits by Robert and Bruce Wheatley

Review: Railway Portraits by Robert and Bruce WheatleyRailway Portraits by Bruce Wheatley, Robert Wheatley
Published by Writelight Pty, Limited on 2006
Genres: non-fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon

Robert and Bruce Wheatley were given the freedom by their parents at ages 16 and 13, to roam the NSW railway network for up to a week at a time. With packs on their back and pocket money for survival, they travelled on all manner of trains, slept in railway waiting rooms, rode with the guard on goods trains, and when confidence grew, with the crew in the cab. The family's Box Brownie camera accompanied their early wanderings but its slow shutter speed crippled serious photography. While at school, money was saved to purchase a 35mm and later, large format cameras. Their challenge was to capture on film, the steam railway in all its beauty and grime, before the era ended. The photographs in Railway Portraits reflect their love and passion for all things railway.

One of the highlights of our recent excursion to Hunter Valley Steam Fest at Maitland was meeting Robert and Bruce Wheatley and purchasing a signed copy of their book Railway Portraits.

More than a book about steam engines, this collection of black and white photographs captures the spirit of the age of steam.

I am by no stretch of the imagination a railway enthusiast, but even I find the photographs in Railway Portraits fascinating. They are more than snapshots of trains and stations and they are more than a record of social and technological change and advancement.

For me, these photographs are intrinsically artistic, capturing not only moments in time but also preserving a glimpse of what makes the Age of Steam so fascinating for so many. What makes the artistic beauty of the shots even more remarkable is the age of the photographers, just 13 and 16, when their passion for steam engines and railways first led them to capture images of the railway life and “essence of the steam locomotive”.

Photographs span the years 1964 to 1979 and include images capturing the everyday life of railway workers driving and maintaining the engines. There are images of couplings, backplates, fittings and even the Goulburn North signal box cat (taken in 1978). My favourites are the two photographs of young children hanging over picket fences to gaze with fascination at a passing train.

Robert and Bruce mentioned another project soon to be completed and I admit that I can’t wait to see what other treasures their passion for steam engines and photography might produce. Watch this space for more details.

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