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Although at a very young age I was frequently the subject of my Father's box Kodak "Brownie," my earliest recollection of trying to be a photographer was receiving a very miniature camera (about 1/2 the size of a pack of cigarettes) for Christmas when I was probably about 8 or 6. I hurried outside and snapped some shots of black birds, envisioning large sharp pictures of birds. Looking back, I realize now I would probably have gotten blurry shots of grass with small dark spots where the birds were, but I will never know, as the film came back from the processor totally blank and I never used the camera again. This early interest in photography lay dormant for the next dozen or so years until I became fascinated again with photography and made it my area of concentration while earning a BA degree in art.

The Decisive Moment

I have photographed real live grizzlies in the wild, despite the terror I once felt being so close to this stuffed black bear in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But irregardless the subject, the one factor that fascinates me the most about photography is the camera's ability to freeze a dramatic moment in time. The French street photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson described this moment best when he coined the phrase "the Decisive Moment," of the camera's ability to "fix eternity in an instant." You may have seen one of Henri's most famous decisive moment images, Behind the Gare St. Lazare, a silhouette of a man leaping, in mid-air with legs spread, reflected in a large puddle of water.

The iconic photo of American soldiers raising the flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima in WWII was snapped at the one brief instant when the positions of the soldiers and the outraised hands all seem to illustrate American triumph. The closeup of a boxer's face the instant he is hit, the gloved fist seeming to twist and dislocate his jaw, drops of dislodged sweat spraying brightly through the air. The movie reels of these events look rather ordinary, as you do not notice these dramatic, very brief moments. It is the capture of that one brief, decisive instant that will make the viewer pause and think "WOW!" even if subliminally that I like to capture. For like the movie reel, the eye also can miss that "decisive moment." I did not even notice the drama of this rider being upside down until I saw the negative - all I knew was he had been thrown off.

Nostalgic Photography

A big interest of mine is recreating an old tyme feeling in my photos. Especially with vintage subjects like old cars, steam locomotives, and rustic old buildings. This does not involve the use of old tyme photographic processes, such as the Daguerreotype, Tintype, Ambrotype, or Wet Plate (Collodian), all of which still have some practitioners, but rather I use certain photographic techniques with modern cameras (even digital), including the all plastic Holga camera’s image softness and corner vignetting for emulating the look of old tyme photos.

This interest started in June, 1980, when I first visited the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad's 100 year old steam rail yard in Durango, Colorado. It was like stepping back in time with a camera! Everything from the roundhouse to the oily yard dirt was 100% authentic. And I soon found other steam railroad operations to "step back in time" with.

I even began to receive some national notice for my "authentic" (as I called it then) style of steam train photography, with published articles and photo essays in railroad enthusiast magazines and books. And by the late 1980s, I was pointing my camera at other vintage subjects: antique cars and trucks, historical reenactments, rustic barns and old buildings, and other appropriate subjects.

But photographing the old trains and other vintage subjects in modern surroundings ruined for me the very compelling nature of this vintage subject matter. Almost instinctively I began to devise ways to get around this, such as looking for locations void of modern intrusions, or composing a photo so a line-side bush would hide an open gondola full of tourists. I utilized the old roundhouses, coal towers, water tanks, etc. to fill my photos’ backgrounds. These and similar techniques helped render photos that looked as if they were taken back in the 1930s, '40s or ‘50s (the last full decade when steam was the main power on most railroads). For example, I used grainy film, high contrast printing and sepia tone to help enhance the nostalgic look of this image of the Babcock mill in West Virginia. With color photos, I will often desaturate the color to help effect the "old tyme look" of muted or faded color.

Artistic Photography

In addition, as I am an artist at heart (probably a "frustrated artist" as seen here with one of my early art efforts, although it shows that even at this young age I liked nostalgic scenes), the "photography as art" concept learned in college has often defined my work. Even when photographing sports and features for newspapers, I have always tried for an artistic photo rather than just recording the event. To this end, I frequently visit art galleries, as an artist's use of light, composition, texture, etc. often provides inspiration and ideas to use in my photography. But I want the resulting image to still be recognized as a photo.

For example, I may simply heighten the contrast to resemble a pen and ink drawing, or remove a background for an artistic look, as with this image of a War of 1812 reenactor. Or, as artist Bob Kartsen once told me how artists use "creative license" when the subject is no longer available or never really existed, Coupe Graveyard above was composed of vehicles and other elements from nine states. (Please note that the portfolio images that have been created in this manner are clearly captioned as such.)

Old coupes like these - especially the ones from the late 1930s that had those neat bullet shaped headlights - are my favorite cars. In fact, at one time I owned the 1938 Chevy coupe in the far background, and that I have always liked bullet headlights on my cars is evident in this photo from my early years.


In addition to Henri Cartier-Bresson, I have been greatly influenced by Nick Brandt (his large sepia toned B&W and infrared close-ups of African elephants, lions and giraffes floor me); Cindy Mardian (a member of my camera club, she has inspired me with how exquisite a small print can be); Betty Blevins (a dear friend in Texas and one of the two best watercolorist I have seen): Ted Rose (the other best watercolorist I have seen); David Hume Kennerly (Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist of the Vietnam War, and the Whitehouse photographer for President Ford); Ansel Adams (no explanation needed); Clyde Butcher (his large sized B&W images of the Florida Everglades are especially inspiring); Norman Rockwell (I love his nostalgic style and subject matter); and the B&W medium format train photography of Phil Hastings, Ted Benson, Doug Harrop, Martin Burwash and Richard Steinheimer.

Thank you for visiting Greg Monroe Photography, and if you have any questions or comments, please contact me.
Gregory Monroe

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  • Permanent school collection, Northeast Louisiana
        University, Monroe, LA.
  • Founder and original publisher of The Railfan
    magazine, now published by
        Jamie F. M. Serensits as TRP - The Railroad Press.
  • Union Pacific's Unplanned Preservation article
        and photos in the May-June 1987 Locomotive
        & Railway Preservation
    magazine nominated for
        the 8th Annual Railway & Locomotive Historical
        Society's David P. Morgan award for outstanding
        articles and papers.

  • Bugle (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)
  • Colorado Outdoors
  • CTC Board / Railroads Illustrated
  • TRP - The Railroad Press
  • Locomotive & Railway Preservation
  • Colorado Timetable
  • Railroad Industry
  • Law Enforcement Product News
  • Jefferson County Sentinel
  • Clear Creek Courant
  • Littleton Times

  • In ADS & PROMOS:


    In BOOKS:
  • Georgetown Loop Railroad
  • Record, CD and cassette album covers for the Image Bank
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  • Top Line U.S.A. (body armor)
  • Peaker Services
  • Union Pacific Railroad
  • A Celebration of Steam
  • Guide to Tourist Railroads and Museums
  • Ticket to Silverton
  • BOOKS by GREG:
  • Crafting Dramatic Black & White Photos
  • Moffat! Rio Grande-Southern Pacific-Union Pacific West of Denver, Colorado
  • Colorado's Modern Narrow Gauge Circle

  • June 2011: Decisive Moments from 30 Years of Railfan Photography (B&W photo essay and short article on capturing the "dramatic" railroad image.)

  • February 2013 to October 2015: Author of column Camera Bag on railfan train photography.
  • May 2007 to 2009: Author of column Digital Horizons on digital train photography.
  • September 2008: The Dotsero Cutoff (The story of an important rail line in Colorado.)
  • April 2007: Digital Photography for the Railfan (How to get started in digital train photography.)
  • November 1990: Thirty Years of Excursion Steam (The story of the Rocky Mountain railroad Club's steam train excursions.)
  • July 1990: Railfanning the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic (Photographing this steam powered railroad in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.)
  • April 1990: Mystery of Jukes Tree (The story behind an oft-photographed historic tree beside the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR outside Chama, New mexico.)
  • June 1988: Hiking the Animas Canyon (Photographing the Durango & Silverton Narrow gauge RR in the scenic Animas River Canyon in southwestern Colorado.)
  • July 1986: Bridge to Fame - Recreating the Georgetown Loop (The restoration of a famous narrow gauge steam railroad between Silver Plume and Georgetown, Colorado.)
  • January 1985: Coors - Brewed with Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water and a Railroad (The operation of the Coors Brewery Railroad in Golden, Colorado.)

  • April & July 2015: Narrow Guge to the Mines (2-part article with photos.)

  • September 2008: Horse Sense (Color photo of rodeo bull dogging action with list of rodeo photography tips.)

  • May 1984: Louisiana F Units (An experiment in train photography with limited equipment - an Olympus XA.)
  • November 1983: Winds of Change (The last days of the Rio Grande Zephyr passenger train.)
  • March 1983: Noteworthy Northern (About Union Pacific Railroad's "Northern Class" steam locomotive #8444.)
  • September 1982: Memories of Whistles and Smoke (A railroader's first hand stories of working on the railroad in South Park, Colorado in the early 1900s.)
  • November 1981: The Roundhouse and Smoke are Still There (The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad's last steam powered operation, in Durango, CO.)
  • July 1981: How to Photograph Tourist Railroads (Photo techniques for the authentic steam train look.)

  • May-June 1988: the Galloping Geese of the Rio Grande Southern (The story of the unusual motor cars of the Rio Grande Southern RR in southern Colorado in the mid-1900s.)
  • May-June 1987: Union Pacific's Unplanned Preservation (The Union Pacific railroad's collection of historic locomotives). Nominated for the 8th Annual Railway & Locomotive Historical Society's David P. Morgan award for outstanding articles and papers.
  • May - June 1986: Photographing Today for Yesterday (Photo techniques for the authentic steam train look.)

  • August 1992: Breaking the Rules (A new look at composition, lighting, etc. for dramatic train photographs.)

  • July - September 1999: The Best medium Format Camera for Train Photography? (The advantages of using the Pentax 67 camera.)
  • April - June 1999: 6 Inexpensive Ways to Shoot medium Format
  • April - June 1999: The Great Montana Smoke Show (The Montana Rail Link Railroad's Mullen Tunnel near Helena, Montana)
  • January - March 1999: Medium Format for Train Photography - Is medium Format for You?
  • January - March 1996: Tennessee Pass - Should You Get Your Photos Now? (Photo opportunities on the Union Pacific Railroad's soon to be discontinued line across Tennessee pass in Colorado.)

  • Iron Road Revisited about photographing Trains

  • March - April 1996: Wild Light (Using dramatic light for wildlife photography.)
  • November - December 1990: The Beauty of Ice (Poetry and photo.)
  • Rocky Mountain Jewels (Poetry on Columbine flowers and photo.)

  • November - December 1996: Fire is the Artist (The photo possibilities in a burned forest)

  • February 1983: Conquering the legendary Black bear Pass (4-wheel drive adventure in southwestern Colorado.)
  • September 1982: The Ghosts of St. Elmo (4-wheel drive adventures near the ghost town of St. Elmo, Colorado.)

  • November 1981: Crystal River Valley (4-wheeling and camping in the Crystal River Valley of Colordao.)

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