The Railroad and Photography: The New Mode of Marketing

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, photography arose as a popular artform. At the same time, the railroad was an increasingly sought after technology. As a result, the railroad had significant influence on people's use of photography.

Railroads had a tendency to create a two-deminsional world. This resulted from trains' speeds and the way railroads cut straight through the landscape. Before trains, people would ride in stage coaches. These moved much slower than trains, so people would feel immersed in the landscape as they drove past it. They could see the detail of the passing nature. At the same time, in contrast to railroads, which cut straight through nature, stage coaches drove on roads that moved with the terrain. These new differences created a completely new relationship between people and their world. When sitting in a train car and looking out the windows, people lost the depth that came with riding in stage coaches. Because trains moved so quickly, the world blurred. People became outsiders looking at a flat, panormic world. 

During this time, the technology of photography was progressing. The invention of the Kodak camera, for instance, made it possible for everyday people to begin taking photographs. The combination of the new ease of taking photographs and the increasingly panoramic world without depth that resulted from the railroad led to an increased interest in photography. People enjoyed the ability to use cameras to play with perceptions of depth.

Through the technologies of film cameras, one is able to control where the focus of a photo lies. For instance, one can create a shallow depth of field through utilizing a wider aperture; this results in a photo where the focus is close on a single item with a blurry background. At the same time, by using a narrow aperture, a photographers can focus on the entire landscape in front of them, creating a photo with a wide depth of field. All of this was utilized to add deminsions to this newly two deminsional world.

I set out to photograph different locations with different focuses. I attempted to showcase photography as an artform displaying the depth of the world.

Text and Photographs by Leigh Lewis, Computer Science, LMU 2021

The Railroad and Photography: The New Mode of Marketing