Tom Law
The Joker
Several years ago I found myself living in a loft next to the railroad tracks, and I began to photograph trains out my back window. I soon began to focus on the graffiti painted on the boxcars. At some point in doing this I realized part of the appeal was that the cars were moving, meaning I had only a few seconds to make the picture. When I began this series I worried about missing something, but I reminded myself that passing trains would be a part of my everyday life. If I missed one shot, I would always have a chance at another. This is a comforting thought to a photographer.

People sometimes ask a photographer if he has a favorite shot, and in the case of these photographs, I do. One day as I was sitting at my desk I heard the whistle of an approaching train, and when I looked out the window the locomotives had already gone past. I looked up the line and saw a car approaching that had the face of a Joker painted on it. I was able to focus and frame just one shot. I never saw the Joker again, but he made me realize how much luck is involved in finding an interesting piece of graffiti on a passing train.

It was lucky I heard that train and looked out the window, lucky that my camera was at the window ready to go, lucky that it had a telephoto lens. Almost all the pictures I like in this series involve luck in one way or another. I made maybe a thousand frames of the passing boxcars, and I wonder about the people who painted them - the graffiti artists- how much time do they have to do their paintings, do they do it at night and if so, how do they pick the colors, and do they like working with the railroad graphics already stenciled on the cars. After all it was their work I was photographing. Was it a lot of luck for them, too?
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