G. Zimbel.

Norfolk & Western Railroad 1961

A photographic essay by George S. Zimbel © 2007

In the late 1950's, when McCalls Magazine started publishing full page color illustrations, this design concept soon swept the pages of the popular magazines. The use of the photo essay diminished as the use of illustration increased.

Some photographers who were dedicated to the photographic story were devasted and saw their chosen path disappear. My good friend Ed Feingersh was one. He saw no future and died; Winogrand drifted into the art world; Arthur Leipzig began teaching: Bob Schwalberg utilized his technical expertise and became an editor.

For me, who has never changed the way I look at the world, there was a realization that I could do my work for purposes other than magazine publication. I began photographing exhibitions for the USIA before it became highly politicized. I worked on several books and then I moved on to industry.

One of my first industrial jobs was a commission to photograph the Norfolk & Western Railroad. This historic railroad had a great tradition and I was very excited, but wary, because I had to shoot in December.

I concentrated my coverage on the movement of coal from the mines of Virginia to the port of Norfolk where it was loaded on ships for worldwide destinations. This involved racing trains along service roads, climbing towers, buzzing a train in a Cesna, shooting from a boat in Norfolk Harbor, and of course riding in diesel engines.

I believe the finished work was used in the 1961 Norfolk & Western Railroad Annual Report. The original prints were destroyed in a fire at my studio in 1966. These scans are references for my plan to reprint the portfolio archival.

George S. Zimbel
Montreal, 2007