MARZIPAN: This place is perfect for my Intro to Photography class. {lowers her guitar and pulls out a Polaroid camera from Hammerspace} I've already hit the railroad tracks and an abandoned factory. This will complete the amateur trifecta! {looks through the view-finder briefly}

Winston Salem was the best place to complete the Amateur Trifecta. Within easy walking distance of the art school campus there was a graveyard with tombstones stretching back to the 1700’s, an enormous, prominent, tastefully overgrown, and possibly abandoned (but those lights…) tobacco factory, and a series of railroad tracks both abandoned and active, some even right next to the tobacco plant! Conveniently, these were all just a few blocks away from the trendy bars as well.

I can clearly conjure the heady feeling of composing a shot just so along the railroad tracks. Of being yelled at by the honest Norfolk Southern employees trying to maintain safety standards. Of walking just close enough to my companion, wondering if he’ll reach out and put an arm around my waist.

The Amateur Trifecta is a right of passage. When a budding artist sees the power of the viewfinder for the first time, it’s totally natural to seek out subjects dripping with mood and aesthetic.

The railroad in particular presents a particular fascination because of the tantalizing powers of one-point perspective. When those tracks vanish in the distance, do they carry our dreams into the future or fade our hopes into nothing? Will the American passenger rail network ever cease to suck? Will the storied glory of these tracks and these factories ever return? Will he ever want me?

I’m reading Composition by Arthur Dow, which is conveniently available online for free from the Gutenberg Project. Dow was a big influence on Georgia O’Keeffe and other big artists of the 20th century. And though he was working and writing in the golden age of American rail, he was perhaps the first to call out railroads as a trope. In his description of Repetition as one of the five elements of composition, he writes,

Repetition, be it remembered, is only a way of putting lines and spaces together, and does not in itself produce beauty. A mere row of things has no art-value. Railroads, fences, blocks of buildings, and all bad patterns, are, like doggerel rhyme, examples of repetition without art.

Repetition in fine spacing, with the intention of creating a harmony, becomes a builder of art fabric.

Every breathless spring, young adults traipse down the tracks to the graveyard and then on to the factory. It’s a tradition of non-originality pursued in wonderful ignorance by those youngest members of a large and disparate tribe. The rhythm of our collective stumbling creates a music all of its own, drifting on the cool, pollen-laden air.