Keeping it real

Killigrew uses vintage methods to photograph vintage train

“Larry Beam” is one of Brian Killigrew’s silver gelatin prints of life behind the scenes at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad on display at Open Shutter Gallery. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“Larry Beam” is one of Brian Killigrew’s silver gelatin prints of life behind the scenes at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad on display at Open Shutter Gallery.

Though it may not be a provable fact, it is a reasonable assumption that the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is the subject of more photographs than anything else in the Four Corners. So it takes something special to catch the eye of train owner Al Harper to gain unfettered access to the downtown depot.

“I constantly have guests giving me photos of our own train. I think I’ve seen every possible view, and I love them all, but Brian is so different,” Harper said.

“I have one in my office. They’re true works of art, and I’ve never seen anything that compares to them.”

Brian Killigrew was a lifelong Manhattanite who took about 15 trips to Durango before finally moving to Southwest Colorado this summer. He began his love affair with the train while on vacation in Silverton years ago, and a mutual respect quickly developed.

“This glorious 1925 locomotive pulls in, and the way the tracks are there you know where it’s going to stop, so that’s where I set up my camera,” Killigrew said. “The engineer said, ‘I like your camera,’ and I said, ‘I like your train,’ and that started my friendship with (train employee) Mike Nichols.”

Through Nichols, Killigrew gained access to scenes around the train depot that most people will never see. His 4x5 camera (so called for the dimensions of the film) and choice of black-and-white film only lend to the authenticity of his photos.

The film reproduces tremendous detail. It allows Killigrew to take pictures the old-fashioned way: with extended exposure times. The vintage processes of his photography were an instant hit around the yard, where the mechanics use vintage tools and are forced to make their own replacement parts.

“I wanted to make images that I’d never seen before, so I’d do exposures in the two-to-five minute range,” Killigrew said. “I’d open the shutter and walk around talking to the workers, but the way those guys are, one guy would ask how the camera worked, and then there’d be six guys standing around watching, too.”

Killigrew’sphotographs instill the same time-traveling feel of the trains, themselves. There are no shortcuts.

“I like everything manual; that means I’m in control,” Killigrew said. “Batteries don’t run out, and you have to calculate exposures in your head like the old days. And then when I’m in the darkroom, I’m creating art.That’s when you put feeling into the image; the idea is not to make a copy of what you’re seeing. I’m trying to get the feeling of the object onto paper, the spirit of the place. What I’m trying to get across is that pride in workmanship is alive at the D&SNGR from the 1800s, and it’s still working.”

ted@durangoherald.com

Brian Killigrew used a vintage 4x5 camera for the images in his exhibit at Open Shutter Gallery. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald photos

Brian Killigrew used a vintage 4x5 camera for the images in his exhibit at Open Shutter Gallery.

Killigrew’s silver gelatin print, “473 Backing onto Turntable,” is typical of his benhind-the-scenes photos taken at D&SNG railyard. Enlarge photo

Killigrew’s silver gelatin print, “473 Backing onto Turntable,” is typical of his benhind-the-scenes photos taken at D&SNG railyard.

“Most people don’t even know those things open up like that,” Brian Killigrew said of “Two Men in Smokebox.” To the right is Killigrew’s portrait, “Gary Clark.” Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“Most people don’t even know those things open up like that,” Brian Killigrew said of “Two Men in Smokebox.” To the right is Killigrew’s portrait, “Gary Clark.”