When I go out to shoot railways, I never delete any images until I am looking at them on my computer at home. The files I decide are good enough to keep are renamed and filed away on my hard drive (and backed up regularly). The very best, usually less than five from a day out, will be edited and printed to put into albums. When I was compiling Rails of the GTA and Rails of the GTA Volume 2, I started my search for suitable images with these albums. Most of the time, they sit on the shelf, guarding hard copies of my favourite images. Now that I am working on Call of the Northland, it is to these albums that I will turn to select images to include (should I decide to use images at all - I haven't gotten that far yet).
Once in a while, I like to open one of these albums and browse through the best images I have captured over the years. I enjoy looking at the shots and seeing how my techniques have improved or evolved over time, not to mention how I might redo a shot differently now. This past weekend, I decided to look through my Canadian and British railway albums to look back on a decade of railway photographs. It was an enjoyable way to while away the hours, but it was also a little unsettling. There was a time that I could tell you in what context each shot was captured, what the day was like, what I was doing and sometimes even what camera settings I used. Thanks to the wonders of digital images, the number of images we can take has grown exponentially and we can literally be overwhelmed with data. Some of the shots I came across seemed a little foreign. "Did I really take that?" was uttered a few times. There is nothing wrong with my memory, I simply have too many shots to keep track of now. I know that if I navigated through my nicely organised computer folders of images (honestly, they are kept in order) I would be able to recall more by looking at dates and location information, but it was still a bit of a surprise to realise how much I had done.
I then decided to see how many railway shots I had taken over the years and came up with a staggering number: there are over 10,000 railway images on my hard drive. Given that I usually reject around 70% from any given shoot, that means that I have probably taken somewhere in the range of 30,000 railways photos over the years. In film days that would have amounted to over 1,200 rolls of film - thank goodness that digital is effectively free after the initial purchase.
Perhaps the most incredible thing is that those numbers are going to keep going up. Every time I go out to shoot, more shots get added to the computer and a few will be added to the albums. From time to time, I will browse through them and be reminded of moments I had completely forgotten about. Perhaps that is the joy of images: over time, you come to see them afresh and with a whole new perspective.
So, do you remember?