Railroad Days to Feature "Requiem for Steam" Exhibit
JUNE 2014

Renowned photographer David Plowden captures the mood and beauty of the last days of an era in this exhibit of 30 meticulously crafted black and white prints from 1960. 

“Requiem for Steam:  The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden” was produced by The Center for Railroad Photography & Art in Madison, Wisconsin.  The exhibit will be on display during Galesburg’s Railroad Days Festival courtesy of a partnership between the Center and the National Railroad Hall of Fame.    


The images in “Requiem for Steam” were photographed by Plowden within a few weeks’ time in 1960.  They capture the mood and beauty of the last days of an era:  the power of the steam locomotive, the pride of railroad men, and the lasting imprint of steel rails across the continent.


The Chicago Sun-Times says Plowden has “...the eye of a poet, the mind of a historian, and the heart of a photographer.” 


“Requieum For Steam” will be on display at The Box, 306 East Simmons Street on Friday, June 27th, and Saturday, June 28th.  The exhibit is free and open to the public.


David Plowden’s fascination with steam began at age five.  From the window of his family’s Manhattan apartment, he was mesmerized by the steamboats plying the East River.  He traveled frequently behind steam locomotives on railroads throughout New England, and later, across most of the U.S. and Canada.  In 1943, at age 11, Plowden took his first railroad pictures using his mother’s box Brownie.  Although he did not know it at the time, photography would become his passion and his life’s work.


For the next sixteen years, Plowden photographed steam locomotives at every opportunity. After earning a degree in economics from Yale University, he spent a year as an assistant to the trainmaster on the Great Northern Railway in Minnesota.  At work, he learned railroading and rode trains.  On his days off, Plowden photographed some of the GN’s last steam operations.


Determined to turn his pastime into a profession, Plowden became an apprentice to O. Winston Link and studied with Minor White and Nathan Lyons before striking off on his own. In 1959-60, he photographed the end of steam on the Canadian Pacific Railway, having been granted open access to the entire system.  His devotion took him to the most far-flung reaches of the CPR’s Atlantic Region where he quite literally bore witness to some of the last breaths of steam on North American mainlines.


After the advent of diesel locomotives’ dominance, Plowden trained his cameras on myriad facets of American industry and infrastructure, but the railroad has remained a common thread throughout his career.



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