College freshman Steven Chen grew up in Brookfield, Wisc., and is pursuing the pre-medical track. He shared with the Wheel his interest in photographing trains.
The Emory Wheel: Tell me about your hobby.
Steven Chen: I do railroad photography, so with anything related to railroads, I try to make art out of it through photographs. Many people, when I tell them that I take picture of trains, might think that I just go to train tracks, wait around until the train comes and snap a picture. And I know a lot of railfans — that’s the term used for train enthusiasts — who document the trains. But for me it is not only about documenting the trains, it is also about creating quality photos. Most of the time, my focus would be the locomotives, because I think they are really neat and fascinating with their heavy metal power and machinery. It is really neat to see and take photos of the designs, as they are very aesthetic.
EW: Why do you like trains?
SC: There is so much to the trains that I think is just fascinating. The sound of the whistle, the sound of the horn, the sound they make when they roll down the hill and the designs of the trains, all of it is very beautiful. It is a gut feeling that keeps me attracted to them, I guess. There is also a mystery element to the trains. Suppose there is an empty railroad track that goes away in the bend, and I would always wonder, what’s around the next bend, where is it going after that. And when I see the train come from the bend and pop into the view, I get very excited.
As for a photography subject, trains are not something that people focus their photography on. So many times I have to play around, explore different options when it comes to photographing them, and that is what makes it really fun. There are so many opportunities to create some pretty cool photographs that many photographers would not be aware of because they are not doing railroad photography. I just really like to combine my interest in photography with my interest in trains and see what I can make out of it.
EW: Did the place where you grew up affect your interests?
SC: Brookfield is 10 minutes west of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee also has a very rich railroad history. There are a lot of tracks that run through from the countryside to the suburbs. They used to belong to Soo Line Railway and Milwaukee Road, but these railways went bankrupt and are now owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway. But a lot of my railfan friends have family members [who] used to work for these railroads. So definitely talking with them and learning more about the history made me more interested in the railroads.
EW: How do you find other railfans?
SC: Most of us know each other through social media, which is where we share our photos. A lot of times we use sites such as Flickr and YouTube, as some people also do videos, and of course Facebook. Multiple of my Facebook groups actually help me find out when the good trains are coming. For example, someone would see a train that has a pretty special engine or something and they would alert everyone down the tracks. So I can go, get to see and take some photos of it.
EW: When did you start taking photos of trains?
SC: [I started] when I was around 10 years old, although I’ve loved trains my entire life. I was in China when I first took my train photo. And after that I just started borrowing my mom’s camera, and every time I would see a train I would try to take some photos. Back then, they were all very blurry. I got really serious about photography and actually taking quality photos in general in my freshman year of high school. That was when I got my first DSLR camera and after that, I never looked back, just kept going.
EW: What is your family’s attitude toward your hobby? Are any family members also interested in railroad photography?
SC: No one in my family that I know of is interested in the trains. Two of my uncles are very interested in photography, but not photography of trains. Initially, my parents did not support me, as they thought it was a waste of time. But after I got one of my photos published in the Trains Magazine and started making some progress at getting myself out there with this, they started to see the value of it more.
EW: Did you find people who share your passion at Emory?
SC: A few of my friends actually came out and watched a few trains with me. I don’t think that any of them are as enthused with it as I am, but that is perfectly fine. I just love talking about it and spreading the idea. Overall, the students at Emory are very open to the new ideas and prospects. I was thinking of starting something new on campus in the future, [but I am] not sure if it will be related to photography or my other interest, Rubik’s Cube. I think people would be more interested in [Rubik’s Cubes] but that is just a possibility.