In Pictures

In pictures: The empty railways of America

West from Oacoma, South Dakota Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption West from Oacoma, South Dakota

One of photographer John Sanderson's earliest memories was family road trips to Pennsylvania from his home in Manhattan, New York.

While on one of these trips, 13-year-old Sanderson discovered the delight of taking pictures when shooting the Strasburg Rail Road and its historic steam engine.

Returning to the subject of railways in adulthood, he rebelled against his younger self and this time chose to photograph American railroads devoid of trains.

Fuel transfer station, New Windsor-on-Hudson, New York Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Fuel transfer station, New Windsor-on-Hudson, New York
Tower at diamond crossing, Walkerton, Indiana Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Tower at diamond crossing, Walkerton, Indiana
Early morning, Stony Point, NY Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Early morning, Stony Point, NY

This, he believed, allowed the pictures to focus on the surrounding context of architecture and landscape rather than simply the temporary presence of a train.

He said, "The proximity of the railbed to the environment, I later discovered, was a perfect way to explore America's national character."

NA Tower, Martinsburg, West Virginia Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption NA Tower, Martinsburg, West Virginia
Helme Snuff Mill, Helmetta, New Jersey Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Helme Snuff Mill, Helmetta, New Jersey
Steel Mill landscape, Cleveland, Ohio Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Steel Mill landscape, Cleveland, Ohio

The photographs capture everything from urban to rural environments, from the highest mountain ranges to the smallest towns.

Landscapes from the eastern to western states vary from high rise buildings, to grain silos and open fields.

Mainline out of town, Columbus, Ohio Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Mainline out of town, Columbus, Ohio
Depot, White Lake, South Dakota Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Depot, White Lake, South Dakota
Passage, Downtown Columbus, Ohio Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Passage, Downtown Columbus, Ohio

At times, Sanderson deliberately abandoned the typical vanishing point perspective of the tracks, instead producing horizontal views of the buildings that run alongside the tracks.

"As the project grew," he said, "shooting from this angle started to make so much sense because many of these places were built in lateral alignment with the railroad."

Park Avenue Tunnel Cut, New York City Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Park Avenue Tunnel Cut, New York City
Coaling Tower, Marion, Ohio Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Coaling Tower, Marion, Ohio
Clearing Storm, Medicine Bow, Wyoming Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption Clearing Storm, Medicine Bow, Wyoming

He appreciated the quietness of the tracks, as opposed to the more frequently documented roads of America.

That is, he said, "until a 100 car-long freight train rumbles into the scene".

View of Manhattan from Kearny, New Jersey Image copyright John Sanderson
Image caption View of Manhattan from Kearny, New Jersey

Photographs by John Sanderson.

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