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Some Trains in America

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review: By Andrew Cross. Prestel, 2002. 156pp. £30

Andrew Cross is described on the dust-jacket as 'part folk artist, part postmodern sophisticate', writes Austin Williams. Fortunately, that is the only difficult thing to interpret in this book.

With only one page of text, this photographic record of Cross' love-affair with the American train speaks for itself, documenting 10 years of visits to railyards, railways, depots and crossings. The concept is not unlike Martin Parr's 'Boring Postcards', and this would probably have been the case if the photographs had been taken in Crewe storage yards or Birmingham New Street's sidings. The images work because they are inherently romantic; which is partly to do with the scenery, but mainly because of the magic of things American to British eyes.

Tony Hatch once explained that he could not have advised us to get our kicks on the M25 - only Route 66 being able to conjure the excitement of places such as Joplin, Missouri and Gallup, New Mexico. These pictures reflect that point. The Santa Fe, the Union Pacific, these are names to conjure with;

not Network South-East or Silverlink. Freight is such a delightful word compared with our 'goods'or 'wagons'.

Whether it is both trains and the mid-western plains, stretching miles into the distance, or locomotives sitting at street level in the urban context as the workhorse companion to the gleaming road-freight big rigs, what strikes you in these images is how much the railways and locomotives are part and parcel of the American landscape. They bridge the modern and the historical.

This book has obviously been a labour of love and the pictures, on the whole, are very well handled. A few convey a more mundane aspect of everyday rail activity: a loco going under a freeway bridge in Dolores, California; a depressingly derelict city fringe at Omaha. Funnily enough, Cross has made a name for himself photographing the everyday - from sheds in Slough to roundabouts in Swindon. Whether these humdrum images provide the post-modern or sophisticated edge to the book, for me, they spoiled somewhat its overall romance.

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