The Chodkowski Chronicles; an introduction to creative railway photography by Renaud Chodkowski

1- Introducing myself

I am going to publish some chronicles about Trains and Photography . But before talking about trains in future publications, I wanted to introduce myself, my work and my vision of Railroad Photography.

From documentary work to creative research

My name is Renaud Chodkowski and I’m a 45 years old train driver living in France. I’ve been taking railway related pictures since 1995. My first shots could be classified as a “documentary work”. This means photographs on which one can clearly see the locomotive and its convoy. To be perfect, such pictures have to be taken with the sun behind the photographer. One Swedish friend of mine used to call such shots as the “missionary position” of the Railroad Photography! Americans call them “wedgies”.

A Vossloh Euro4000 from Europorte is pulling a cement train to Paris suburbs. This picture is the perfect example of a “wedgie” with the sun in the back of the photographer.

My playground is the Lorraine region, in the East of France. I wrote several articles about  the major lines in this area for French magazines (Voies Ferrées and Objectif Rail). But after a few years fooling around the tracks, I started to be bored taking such classical pictures.

The curve of Barisey-la-Côte, on the Dijon to Toul line, is a perfect place to appreciate this impressive mixed freight train. One of the many Prima BB27000 owned by Fret SNCF is pulling this train linking the yards of Sibelin (near Lyon) and Woippy (near Metz).

Then I met photographer François Iliovici and we started to talk about Photography and not only trains. This led to the creation of the now-gone Images & Trains project. The idea was to offer a space of creativity and freedom for unconventional photography. Unfortunately it ended after a few months for some reasons.  However this short experience profoundly influenced the way I’m taking trains in pictures now. Well “trains” is not the right term, “railroad universe” would be better.

This is the cover of the second issue of the PDF magazine published by the Images & Trains team. The issue grouped a series of articles about mass transit systems.

Fuel for thoughts

Fooling around tracks or inside a station is now a way to challenge my creativity. To do this, I use modern tools: a digital Sony a7ii camera and a range of Minolta/Sony/Zeiss lenses, some Godox flashes and some quality softwares – aka the “digital darkroom”.

One of my interest in Railroad Photography is to create monochrome pictures of contemporary subjects. To achieve this, I use the amazing “Silver Efex Pro 2” software. This picture shows a South West train leaving Clapham Junction, near London.

Today, my “creative range” is wide. It goes from a well-lit documentary picture to an abstract work; from a monochrome high-speed line scene to a Hipstamatic portrait of a sleeping passenger. I also enjoy stories behind pictures and I’m curious of photographers’ vision around the globe.

Thailand is an amazing country for photographers. People are collaborating when taking pictures and some sceneries are really from another time. Here some passengers of a train stopped in Hua Hin station say hi.

This is what I would like to share with you through a series of chronicles for Railcolor. I’m going to propose you some “fuel for thoughts”, some opinions mixing thoughts about Photography and fact of the Railroad Universe. You’ll be warmly welcome to react to my words through the social networks.

So stay tuned … and be creative!

A portrait as I was in charge of a Lille to Genève Lyria train.

Follow my adventures and see my latest work on my facebook page, my flickr page and my website.