Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Enchantment of Miniature Worlds

Serendipity – ah, there’s that word again. I kinda like the way it trips over the tongue and the QWERTY.

And, yes, I know I’ve used it a lot of late in these entries. It’s just that some really nice experiences, many involving travel and/or photography, have sprung from serendipitous origins, most recently, my current ‘scapes exhibit at Piola.

I hope not to give the impression that, were it not for kindly twists of fate or serendipity, there’d not be good things to celebrate in these pages…but here’s a really nice thing to share with you, dear assembled eyeballs (especially if you love trains as I do), that did, well sort of, result from a serendipitous suggestion.

Those who follow my photography know I exhibit my work frequently on the European web site Foto-Community. And if you follow my work there, you know I often post images of trains in European settings.

A while back, a fellow F-C photographer and train lover, sent me a link to a German television and video series, which, from seeing my train photos and reading my narratives, she thought I should know about. The series is called Eisenbahn-Romantik and it airs on the German SWR Fernsehen.

This series presents superbly produced half-hour programs, each dealing with a special railroad line or set of experiences. These programs are also easily found on You Tube.

The guiding spirit for Eisenbahn-Romantik is Hagen von Ortloff. He's been doing it since 1991. If ever a man enjoys what he does, it is he. His enthusiasm and knowledge in presenting these documentaries is contagious.

Anyhow, as the saying goes, one thing led to the next. I believe the impetus was happening upon an Eisenbahn-Romantik program about the Nostalgic Pullman Glacier Express, including its route segment on my favorite railroad, the Rhätische Bahn in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, along which it was pulled by my favorite still-running vintage electric locomotive, the Krokodil. I wrote to Herr von Ortloff, expressing my desire to purchase this program if and when released on DVD, and put forth my interest in any opportunities to do English version narrations for any of his programs.

I was delighted to receive a letter during the summer from the company that produces the DVD versions of Eisenbahn-Romantik programs, as a result of their having been given my name by Hagen von Ortloff.

Along the Coburg line, a farmer seeks a wife! And will this search be crowned with success?

Herr Schumacher inquired as to my rates and interest in voicing the English narration for an E-R DVD. We quickly reached an agreement, and I was engaged for the project, the upcoming DVD set on Europe’s foremost model train show, OntraXS. The show takes place each year at the Dutch Railroad Museum in Utrecht. Hagen von Ortloff and his crew had shot voluminous high quality video at this enchanting show, including interviews with show and museum officials and, of course, the modelers who come from throughout Europe to this model railroading summit.

We would do it “transatlantic” – they’d send me files of the video and scripts, and I’d record the narrations in my studio and upload the files to be subsequently mixed with the video, music, and other sound  in Germany.

If ever a narration project was more in my wheelhouse, er, locomotive cab...…

Lewin Leski station detail from Lewin Leski layout chapter on OntraXS DVD

The lovingly shot video, combined with the expertly chosen music and sound mixes, the contagious enthusiasm of everyone interviewed, and Hagen von Ortloff’s superbly engaging script capturing the enchantment of these miniature worlds, combined with my own love of trains (no matter the size!) made the narration project a delight.

I was also honored to learn I was selected to voice Herr von Ortloff’s longest production yet, actually resulting in a finished presentation of 150-minutes, entailing release as a two-DVD set.

As you may know from reading some of these rambles, I spent a large part of my early years messing around with model trains, and the most precious memories of those years had to do with visiting those big elaborate layouts and the enjoyable situation of birthdays at Holiday time…visions of new locomotives, cars, accessories, all dancing like sugar plums in my head…

In the Ruhr Valley (Revier-Module)

But I had been away from the hobby for a long while and was delighted to discover all the refinements since my own model railroading experience, including all the digital sounds for all manner of steam, diesel, and electric locomotives and other touches of reality-in-miniature. And there is, of course, the sheer love that these modelers bring to their craft in terms of re-creating earlier eras of railroading. And it’s not just the trains, but the whole milieu, often depicting gentler eras. I do not recall seeing even one miniature figure dashing about with a cell phone pressed to his or her ear…

It was all the more…heartening, in this era of de-humanizing and de-socializing video games that have taken over so many of our youth, to see such a gentle, human element in the European railroad modelers and the enchantment of the visitors, of all ages, to the show in Utrecht. It is definitely on my list for a future Europe visit.

"Darius" wheezes along the canal harbor of Jotwédé, confident that fireman Jean Pierre will shovel coal as needed.

The Eisenbahn-Romantik OntraXS DVD set is now available.

If you share my enthusiasm for trains of all eras, as well as these unique miniature worlds, I’d like to recommend this DVD set, presented in wide-screen format. You won't just be looking at video of model railroads - you'll be immersed in a magical, miniature world.

I should advise North American readers that unless you have a “universal” DVD player (one that will read European PAL discs) you will not be able to view this on your TV, but the DVDs will play just fine on your computer.

My thanks to Hagen von Ortloff, Wolfgang Schumacher, and Andreas Stirl for a most enjoyable project.

Alle einsteigen! All aboard! Next stop, Enchantment.

©2013 Steve Ember
Screen captures from OntraXS DVD ©VGB Verlagsgruppe Bahn GmbH

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

One for Valentine's Day...

   ...from a (romantic) photographer's notebook

I Only Have Eyes For You...

I have recently been out and about with the cameras, collecting Washington images and “slices of life” for some new photo essays on my broadcast organization’s web site.

The aim of one such shoot during the summer was to capture the after-work ambiance of a summer evening in a city that is often known for taking itself too seriously.

The Mall sees its share of tourists, but as sunset approaches, there is more in the way of “native” activity going on – jogging, bicycling, walking the dog, that sort of thing. And a lot of that, judging from facial expressions, body language, and the like, is right in character with that oh-so-serious mindset.

Ah, but here, across from the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, I saw this attractive young couple enjoying their Starbucks in the waning late afternoon sunshine of this summer day.

They were so charmingly wrapped up in each other that I hesitated before approaching to ask if they might mind if I included them in the foreground of some shots of the Air and Space Museum.

They were as nice as they look here, and told me it would be fine.

And they went right back to being so wrapped up in each other…
which makes me so fond of this captured moment.

And, as music so often plays in my "gray matter gramophone," whether while shooting or in the subsequent editing stages, the photo virtually titled itself.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Photo ©2012/2013 Steve Ember

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