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Traveling the Portillo Way 
Stories of Rail 1869-2023
Scott Gould, Jonny Tanoto and photographs from the stockroom. 

 

 

Director’s space:

Digital reproductions of four of the Golden Spike glass plates Photographs of the Beijing subway in 2011-13. 

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This exhibition was made possible with the assistance of 

an Introduction

British-built railways in India helped the British to make money and maintain order; but, as a by-product, they served to unite the country, making it ripe for independence. Michael Portillo

Ah, rail travel! A symphony of steel wheels on iron tracks, a journey through time and space, an adventure waiting to unfold. As we traverse the sprawling networks of railway lines crisscrossing the globe, we can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity and innovation that have shaped the world of locomotion. Rail has changed history joining people together, helping people understand others as well as being the conjugate for colonial and other exploitation.

From the grandeur of Victorian steam engines to the sleek sophistication of modern high-speed trains, rail travel has undergone a remarkable evolution, each era leaving its indelible mark on the landscape and the imagination. As we board the historic carriages of yesteryear or speed along the tracks aboard cutting-edge bullets trains, we am reminded of the timeless allure of train travel—a timeless allure that transcends mere transportation and becomes an odyssey of discovery.

But it’s not just the locomotives and carriages that captivate us; it’s the stories woven into the fabric of rail travel—the tales of triumph and tragedy, of adventure and intrigue. Whether it’s the legendary journeys of the Orient Express or the heroic feats of railway pioneers, each railway line has its own narrative, its own cast of characters, its own drama waiting to unfold.

And then there are the stations—the bustling hubs of activity where travelers from all walks of life converge, each with their own destination and their own story to tell. From the grandeur of London’s St. Pancras to the timeless elegance of Paris’s Gare du Nord, each station is a gateway to adventure, a portal to the unknown.

But perhaps what we love most about rail travel is the sense of connection it fosters—the connection between people, between cultures, between past and present. As we journey from one destination to the next, we am reminded that we are all passengers on this grand voyage called life, bound together by the shared experience of the railway journey.

So, as we embark on yet another expedition into the heart of the railway world, we do so with a sense of anticipation and wonder, eager to uncover the hidden gems and untold stories that lie waiting along the tracks. For in the world of rail travel, every journey is an adventure, every destination a discovery, and every moment a memory waiting to be made. Mind the gap!

Andrew J. Russell

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Golden Spike  1869

There has been controversy around the Golden Spike photograph. 

The final 700 miles of track being built almost entirely by skilled immigrants from China who endured racist treatment, unfairly low pay, and extremely dangerous conditions. Nearly 12,000 Chinese workers toiled for more than four years to complete the western section of the railroad and connect the coasts. 

Leland Stanford told Congress in 1865, that the majority of the railroad labor force were Chinese. “Without them, it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprise, within the time required by the Acts of Congress.”

Yet the most publicised of the images omits the Chinese entirely. Scholars like David Eng have raised the question of a white wash erasure of the workers from the official record. 

There is one less reproduced image titled ‘Chinese Laying Last Rail at Ceremony of Laying Last Rail at Promontory’ on the glass plate, it seems the white men crowded out the Chinese in the image. 

Various Trainspotters

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4500 Class 1906-1924 (manufacture date, photographed 1940s-1960s)

Castle Class 1923-1950 (manufacture date, photographed 1940s-1960s)

The 1950s in the United Kingdom witnessed the emergence of a unique and fervent hobby: the pursuit of trainspotting and the collecting of rail paraphernalia. Born out of a fascination with the steam-powered locomotives that traversed the nation’s railways, trainspotting became a popular pastime among enthusiasts of all ages, from young children to seasoned adults.

At its core, trainspotting involved the systematic observation and recording of passing trains, often accompanied by the jotting down of locomotive numbers, types, and other relevant details in meticulously kept logbooks. For many, the thrill lay in the anticipation of spotting rare or exotic locomotives, as well as the challenge of documenting each sighting with precision and accuracy.

But trainspotting was more than just a hobby—it was a cultural phenomenon that captured the imagination of a generation. Railway stations, with their bustling platforms and evocative steam engines, became the epicenters of this subculture, drawing crowds of enthusiasts eager to catch a glimpse of the latest arrivals and departures.

These are photographs made for trainspotters. There were many individuals, business and orginisations that made and sold photographs like these. the gallery holds a collection of ~1500 photographs and postcards covering eight steam classes of locomotives. 

Dienst van Economishe Zaken

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Post War Netherlands

In the aftermath of World War II, the Dutch rail system faced immense challenges due to extensive damage inflicted during the conflict. With large sections of tracks destroyed and rolling stock decimated, the Netherlands embarked on a monumental task of recovery and reconstruction.

 

Through concerted efforts and meticulous planning, the Dutch rail network was gradually restored, with damaged infrastructure repaired and new technologies introduced to modernize the system. Despite the daunting obstacles, the resilience and determination of the Dutch people prevailed, and by the 1950s, the rail network had been revitalized, playing a vital role in the nation’s post-war recovery and facilitating economic growth and social cohesion.

Sebastião Salagdo &
Stephen Dupont

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Indian Railways 1990s 

Included are two photographs from the stockroom depicting the Indian rail system. Sebastião Salgado: Migrations: Humanity in Transition feature’s, Churchgate Station, as one of the cover images. Likewise we feature the cover photo for Stephen Dupont’s Steam India’s Last Steam Trains. These are two of the greatest photojournalist to work in the last 50 years. These two images are made in the same country have little to do with each other except to record a moment in history that is passing.       

Scott Gould

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Victorian Diesel Locomotives 

ITrainspotters have not disappeared, now armed with digital cameras and enthusiasm they still venture to railway stations and trackside to capture the majesty of locomotives in motion, Scott is such an enthusiast. He frame shots that showcase the beauty of trains against scenic landscapes or urban backdrops, he is documenting the evolution of rail transport, from vintage steam engines to the contemporary. We have selected his photographs of Victorian diesel to highlight in this exhibition.     

Garrie Maguire

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Beijing Subway 2011-2013 

In the hustle of the Beijing subway, iPhones discreetly captured candid moments, unbeknownst to commuters. With stealthy finesse, this photographer seized fleeting glimpses of urban life, immortalizing unguarded expressions and shared connections. These surreptitious snapshots, taken before most commuters realised phones doubled as cameras, offer an honest and silent narrative of humanity in motion amidst the bustling rhythms of subway travel.   

Jonny Tanoto

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Chinese High Speed Rail Stations 

As an architect with a passion and need to recording the experience of architectural marvels in two dimensions, Jonny Tanoto embarks on a mission to photograph the grandeur of Chinese fast rail stations. With a high resolution camera and a keen eye for detail, Jonny meticulously composes each shot to showcase the stations’ imposing structures, sleek designs, and innovative features. From the soaring atriums to the intricate facades, he seeks to immortalize the dynamic interplay of form and function that defines these modern landmarks. Through his lens, Jonny tells a visual story of progress, ambition, and technological advancement, offering viewers a glimpse into the captivating world of contemporary architecture in China. 

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