A Photographer’s Views from the Train

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“Traveling by rail offers the unique opportunity of experiencing a cross section of an expansive landscape, allowing one to witness a rapid succession of varied ecological regions and built environments,” says Courtney Richeson, a designer, photographer, architect, and writer based in Baltimore. Her work focuses on how history and politics have shaped our present-day built environment, and calls attention to its contemporary relevance through a literary and visual lens, often using self-generated photographs, digital media, and maps to further illustrate her written work.

This particular series, pulled from her self-published book Views from the Train, presents a “deadpan survey” of the Northeast rail corridor from Boston to Baltimore, depicting a seamless journey between urban, rural, and suburban environments. Unlike a highway, a railway bisects into the center of a city and presents passengers with unobstructed views of the built environment, as well as quiet waterways and beaches. Rather than a cohesive whole, the series celebrates the disparities in these views and the various ways humans live in conjunction with the landscape.

The following images were collected from 2018 to 2021 under varying weather conditions, over different times of day, and across several seasons.

Name: Courtney Richeson
Age: 28
Profession: Architect
IG / Social Media links: @courtneyricheson

What was your first camera? When did you get it?
My first camera wasn’t actually mine, it was my father’s. It was a small digital point-and-shoot, which made photography approachable as a middle schooler. With the immediacy of the digital medium, I was able to slowly develop a sense for composition with it and experiment in an iterative way.

Film or digital or both? Why?
I find myself drawn to the instant gratification of digital. It’s a medium I’m much more comfortable with. I like that digital alleviates some of the anxieties of getting the shot right. In that sense, I feel it’s more conducive for investigating a subject when you don’t know what you’re looking for yet. My knowledge of working with film is very limited and something I hope to improve on. I really admire the material process that operating through film can allow.

Who is your favorite photographer?
Being someone who operates in the realm of architecture, I’m particularly drawn to work that uses photography to make observations on the built environment. Lewis Baltz was the first photographer I came across whose work demonstrated how this could be done. I continue to educate myself on artists whose work operates similarly, and have found myself drawn to the work of Stephen Shore, Todd Hido, and Richard Misrach.

What is your favorite time of day/lighting situation to shoot?
I particularly like the in-between-ness of when the sun is still out, but not for much longer and the street lamps haven’t turned on yet, or are starting to, one by one.

What brought you to Baltimore and when? What was your initial impression of the city and how has this evolved or stayed consistent?
I moved to Baltimore after completing graduate school in the midst of the pandemic. Having grown up in a suburb outside of Baltimore, it was a consistent source of fascination throughout my architectural career. When I was offered a position at a local firm (PI.KL Studio) I was excited by the opportunity to not only explore my interest in Baltimore’s built environment, but contribute to it as well. My understanding of the city continues to evolve and the lines of what is considered the extent of the city have blurred as I investigate its various infrastructure systems.

What’s your favorite piece of photo equipment these days?
I’m not very savvy when it comes to photo equipment. I’ve been enjoying experimenting with how architectural materials can be used throughout the photographic process.

Filters or no filters? Why?
For this particular series, the window of the train acts like a filter, which I don’t attempt to hide in the photos. You’ll see ambient smudges, reflections, shadows, and raindrops throughout. I think filters, when used thoughtfully, can contribute to the clarity of an idea or speculation.

What’s your favorite place in Baltimore—to shoot, visit, or experience?
I find myself focusing on Baltimore’s infrastructure space, a term that I think can have a really broad meaning and send one in many different and exciting directions.


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About the Book
Richeson has compiled her photo series into a book, titled Views from the Train.
“This book is the beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong project of documenting the American landscape from the train. Traveling by rail offers the unique opportunity of experiencing the cross section of an expansive landscape, allowing one to witness a rapid succession of varied ecological regions and built environments. This particular pamphlet presents a deadpan survey of the Northeast rail corridor from Boston to Baltimore, showcasing the way in which the rail seamlessly weaves through urban and rural fabrics. This book seeks to celebrate the polarity of these instances and the moments in between by recreating the contemplative act of looking out the window and speculating on the various ways of living in the world and how they are tethered to the landscape.”

Purchase Views from the Train by Courtney Richeson here.

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