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Starlight on the Rails

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Jeff Brouws. Abrams, 2000. 136pp. £25

Given its mix of railroad, American landscape and night-time, Starlight on the Rails - combining photographs with text - is unashamedly romantic, writes Andrew Cross . Railway enthusiasm in America, as much as in Britain, is synonymous with photography. Some of America's photographic pioneers, such as Carlton E Watkins, documented the development of railways in the nineteenth century and today rail fans constitute a substantial 'amateur' photography market.

There are several discernible genres of railway photography, including the 'artistic' - at its best, the theatre of O Winston Link; at its worst, a sunset with only the hint of a train. Most fine art railway photography, however, is an exercise in telephoto lens or long exposure.

Starlight on the Rails includes a substantial amount of the latter, but surprisingly, given the book's nocturnal theme, does not contain anything by Winston Link. The book does, however, feature some quite striking, mostly black-and-white images, taken from the 1950s to the present day and all superbly printed. It highlights a number of important US railroad photographers, particularly Richard Steinheimer, who is much less known than Winston Link but deserving of equal attention.

Despite its romantic intent, Starlight on the Rails is not overly nostalgic, largely because the accompanying text has a wide historical and cultural perspective. Looking at trains in literature and film (Jack Kerouac, Round Midnight , for instance) takes precedence over facts and figures.

Andrew Cross is a photographer and exhibition curator

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