Crossing the railroad tracks has always been an event sanctioned with caution, fear, and possibly even sublimity. As a child, you are told to stay away from the railway and were lead by your parent’s hand across the beams of metal when it was safe. When the train approaches, there is no stopping its great momentum. The brutal will it has to continue through whatever is in its path may be viewed with awe. Even the superhuman and otherworldly strength of Superman is compared to the marvel of engineering superiority as “more powerful than a locomotive.” Those descriptions were years ago. The greatness of the locomotive has come to be viewed as commonplace over the years since its invention. We do not think of it in the same way. With bombs, humans are actually destroying the mighty train. Now, there exists only partial moments when we actually flirt with the same death on the railway.
The fact still remains that a train could easily kill the passengers and driver of a car if both impacted. That is a fact of greatness supported by years of news reports about cars trapped and smashed by incoming trains that could not slow down in time. You must look at the photographs in my series long enough to realize that the subjects in the cars are really in a potentially dangerous situation. Yet, at first you do not realize that fact; some people have their lazy hands on the wheel, while others hang theirs out the window. When I took the picture of these automotives crossing the railroad tracks, it was at the moment of potential impact, “Death can occur here, but maybe not just at this moment.” The railroad is not a place that you want to be stalled in a car. They would not be prepared to face the fear of that situation if it did occur. After you see picture of car after car in the same position, you should develop a strengthening feeling of precariousness the longer you look at the photographs.We only hear about the bitter end of a match between a car and train in the newspapers, and not the many successful crossings of railroads. This reinforces our fear of the area where track and road meet. That area is laden with associations of the worst happening. People are often afraid of dying. This feeling is intensified when doing the dangerous happens slower and last longer. Even though a train might not be in sight, we cannot cross the tracks fast enough until feeling safe again on the other side. It gives us a momentary thrill and satisfaction of living across a deathly threshold. But, we also must be careful to not trip or stall, so we slow down on the tracks to make it at all.
Andy Warhol made a series of prints about the consequences of cars not “making it to the other side of the tracks.” His Death and Disaster series of serigraphs, based on grainy, black and white tabloid images of race riots, suicide, fatal accident scenes were in the back of my mind when photographing Like Death Warmed Over. I stopped the cars in the dangerous place for a long time, “framing” them to die. It is much like a comic situation, originated from the 1914 film The Perils of Pauline, where Pauline is tied against her will to the railroad tracks. She squirms to no avail; all the while the viewer becomes tenser because each fleeting moment Pauline is on the track means the closer coming of her demise. This, of course, brilliantly defines “macabre” because the film’s subject is not taboo, but still deals with the involvement of death and injury.
My series of photographs suggests macabre in a satirical manner. There are no ties from the rails to the cars. No people are looking at the camera as though they see death. The photographs provide a view the disembodiment of everyday life as a way to rationalize what we fear. Is it rational to be more fearful of train bombings half way across the world than of crossing a local train crossing? Perhaps it is not. But, from time to time, we must give some thought about the possibilities of not being able to make it to the other side of the train tracks.
View the Like Death Warmed Over photography series @ musicanator flickr