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Railroad Vision

Getty Exhibition Offers a New Look at the Connection Between Railroads and Photographs
March 5 - June 23, 2002

Press Preview: Tuesday, March 5, 2002

January 22, 2002

Los Angeles--Railroad Vision, on view from March 5 through June 23, 2002 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, presents more than 80 rare photographs from the 1850s onward exploring the side-by-side progress of railroads and photography. The two inventions developed almost simultaneously in the 1830s, each affecting the other. More than a historical survey, Railroad Vision celebrates how photographs captured the romantic vision of railroads as the symbol of industrial development, expanding nations, a suddenly accessible world, and a changing society. From Édouard Baldus' images of the new French lines in the 1860s to O. Winston Link's nighttime views of the last steam-powered trains in 1950s America, the exhibition illustrates the profound impact that railroads and photography had on perceptions of space, time, distance, and travel.

The exhibition features early stereographs, travel books, and rare photographs of early locomotive steam engines, depots, wooden and iron bridges, Civil War train wrecks, and newly laid lines in the European and American countryside. Master works on display include photographs by Gustave Le Gray from the 1850s; Hippolyte-Auguste Collard and A. J. Russell from the 1860s; William Henry Jackson and Carleton Watkins from the 1870s; William H. Rau from the 1890s; Charles Sheeler and Alfred Stieglitz from the early 1900s; O. Winston Link and Edmund Teske from the mid 1900s; and William Eggleston and Jim Dow from the late 1900s.

Weston Naef, curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, comments, "More than any other inventions of this period, railroads and photography dramatically shortened the time required to travel from one place to another, and the time between the idea for a picture and its realization. This exhibition highlights many never-before published or exhibited rare photographs from the Getty's collection."

Anne Lyden, assistant curator in charge of the exhibition said, "Photographs profoundly illustrate the impact of railroads on nature and society and demonstrate how photography visually defined the modern world."

Exhibition Overview

The Dawn of a New Age, the opening gallery, introduces railroads as a revolutionary mode of transportation working hand in hand with photography to bring about change. Photographs functioned not only to document the railroad's advance, but helped foster a new travel and tourism industry. By the 1830s, the railroad lines were spreading throughout Britain, Europe, and North America, followed shortly in 1839 by the groundbreaking discovery of photography. At the time, locomotive engines were viewed as steam-spewing monsters by a suspicious, yet curious, public. To combat these fears and fill passenger seats, railroad companies commissioned photographers to reassure the public. To facilitate their work, photographers such as Jackson and Rau were even given their own railroad cars.

Bridges, Trestles and Viaducts--Oh My! features photographs from the 1860s through the 1880s documenting the construction of iron networks, bridges, trestles, and other structures. Although England was the birthplace of the steam locomotive, France was one of the first countries to systematically photograph railroads with the support of Napoléon III, who recognized technology's economic potential. The rail system also united diverse French regions by easing the exchange of goods and customs, and requiring the synchronization of clocks. The French artist Baldus produced innovative photographs of the Paris-Lyons and Mediterranean Railroad such as his Entrance to the Donzère Pass. Watkins, Alexander Gardner, and Jackson also took photographs of trains crossing mountains and rivers on newly built bridges and trestles. In Dale Creek Bridge, for example, Jackson highlights the Union Pacific's engineering success with a spectacular view of two locomotives traversing a seemingly precarious iron bridge set in a craggy landscape.

As The Moving Landscape section of the exhibition demonstrates, photographers in the late 1800s, especially Rau and Jackson, produced picturesque images of railroads and landscapes that fed a desire for train travel and encouraged a romantic notion of railroads that exists today. The American vision of railroads, in contrast to the European, reflects themes of Manifest Destiny and the U.S. westward expansion. Many images from this period also trumpet the technological advancements of the railroading age. Jackson and others were active when the Union Pacific in Omaha, and Central Pacific out of Sacramento met in 1869 to form the first transcontinental railroad.

Railroad Vision, the title of both the exhibition and concluding gallery, includes railroad photographs from the 1900s up to the present featuring selected photographs by Charles Sheeler, August Sander, Brassaï (Gyula Halász), Walker Evans, Edmund Teske, William Eggleston, Jim Dow, and others. The Hand of Man, a haunting photograph by Alfred Stieglitz from 1902, shows a smoking locomotive hurtling down the tracks into the modern Industrial Age. Among the exhibition highlights are the elaborately staged photographs of the late O. Winston Link, who died at age 86 in January 2001. A true train enthusiast, Link's work was fueled by passion rather than a railroad commission. His nostalgic Americana images of trains and people foreshadow the demise of the steam engine, the decline of rail travel with the rise of the car culture, and the fading of railroads' early golden age.

The exhibition is organized by Anne Lyden, assistant curator in the Getty Museum's department of photographs. Although the majority of the photographs are from the Getty's collection, the exhibition also presents several loaned works from collections including the following: the Wilson Center for Photography in London; the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California.

Related Programs

All events are free. For seating reservations, please call 310-440-7300 or visit

Point-of-View Talks
Friday, April 5, 6:00 and 7:30 p.m., Museum galleries
Sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Linda Barth, director of the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park and an expert on trains, discusses why people are fascinated with trains and their machinery.

Sunday, April 21, 4:00 p.m., Harold M. Williams Auditorium
Railroads and Western Expansion (working title)
Bill Deverell, professor of history, California Institute of Technology, will discuss Manifest Destiny, the effects of the railroads on the western landscape and its inhabitants, the significance of train travel for 19th-century Americans, and the representation of trains and train travel in art and popular culture. Seating reservations required.

Family Festival

Saturday, June 1, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Museum Courtyard
All aboard! Join the fun when the Getty's Family Festival hops the Railroad Vision train. Hear American railroad songs, listen to tales of courage along the Underground Railroad, and enjoy the diverse cultures of India, Brazil, and China in a celebration of the rails.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit our event calendar for a complete calendar of public programs.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.