Essential Witness and Transition are two books that do that rare thing of capturing the railway in an engaging and artistic way. Each book contains the work of one photographer, Jim Shaughnessy for Essential Witness, and Colin Gifford for Transition.
Essential Witness edges it as my favourite between the two, not only are the images superb, the page design just works for me.
The simple discrete caption, and at the back of the book thumbnail images with extended notes.
Transition, has a similar layout, though not quite so ‘clean’, frustratingly whilst it has simple numbered captions, there’s no extension to them. The images are like those of Witness, brilliant and interesting and I feel the book misses a trick without better captions.
Print quality is brilliant, on good quality paper, blacks are deep blacks, and whites like crisp fresh snow, with all the tonal values between. Both are entirely monochrome, the subject matter really suiting the style of both artists. All weathers are included adding to the atmosphere the images convey, New York State winters really look cold, Manchester, looks wet. There’s very few platform 3/4 shots, the photographers capture both intimate portraits, and trains in the landscape equally well adding to the value of the images. The books will suit modellers, there’s plenty of line side details to study, both in terms of railway equipment, and era specific items like vehicles and clothing. Both volumes cover the change over era’s between the Steam and Diesel era’s, more so with Colin Giffords’s Transition. If you’re after a good book to just kick back and enjoy, both of these definitely fit the bill.
If you take your time you’ll find real value in either book for prototype information, more importantly though you’re likely to just have a really relaxing and enjoyable few hours. Just immerse yourself in the skills and artistry of the images, rare quality in such an accessible format. Printed media is not dead yet!