One of the greatest challenges and pleasures in self-publishing is partnering with other artists to conceive the book cover. It’s the physical representation of your story, and so it has to be right. For the Steam! Romance and Rails series, I didn’t just want pictures of trains, I wanted images that would capture the passion and drama of a long-ago time and bring it alive.
When I came across a website featuring the photographic art of Matthew Malkiewicz, I knew I’d found perfect fit. His photography visibly defines the era and captures the mood I want to evoke. His trains are featured on eight of my books, and his iconic images are also featured in the banner of my website and on my newsletter.
Contrary to what some might say, authors can’t launch and sustain careers without great partners, such as critique buddies, editors, illustrators, and designers, photographers, to name a few. In this post, I wanted to extend a special thanks to someone who has been a valued partner and friend on the journey, Matthew Malkiewicz.
I’ll let him tell his story in his own words:
How did you get started “shooting” trains?
It was more an awakening than an idea, it all started at the age of 4 months. I have a photo of myself watching a toy train run around the Christmas tree as a baby, it must have hooked me well. As a kid I had a model train layout on a piece of plywood in the basement, and in my teens I received my first camera, which I aimed at every train I saw. After a long period in my life without cameras or trains a job assignment in Colorado (a train mecca) during 2005 rekindled both hobbies, driving me to buy my first digital camera. At the same time I discovered the power of Photoshop, soon after I created my website to showcase my rapidly growing collection of photographs. It’s been a snowball effect ever since.
What are some of your favorite locations or settings?
I concentrate on vintage steam locomotives from all across the United States. Now they have second lives as tourist operations, the fortunate trains that survived the scrapping after the fleet was retired in the middle of the last century. Modern day railroading, both passenger and freight revenue, are pulled by either diesel or electric engines. My passion gravitates to the machines of yesteryear, fire-breathing monsters that seem to be alive whether you have your hand against the polished steel or you are two bluffs away looking across acres of prairie grass. I envision how it must have been back in the day and try to create photographs as timeless as possible to depict what I consider a vibrantly better and sadly vanished time.
What drew you to photographing old steam engines?
The allure of capturing images that stimulate one’s senses is what drew me to photograph steam-powered locomotives. I wanted to bring to life the smells of the coal fueling the engine, the sound of the steam hissing, and the earth rattling as these magnificent machines sit idling or are in motion. These machines of steam are alive. Each is unique, its own personality, which changes from day to day. At a state of rest the locomotive is groaning, sweating, simmering, creaking, spitting. At speed it’s controlled madness – the ground shakes, sound deafening.
What’s the coolest train you’ve ever photographed and why?
Halloween weekend 2011 at the East Broad Top Railroad in Pennsylvania. Nothing, and I mean nothing; can keep me away from capturing that awe-inspiring shot of a majestic steam locomotive. However, the Halloween nor’easter would certainly test my fortitude. The storm produced unusually early season snowfall across the northeastern United States, breaking records for total accumulations. As the morning passed on, the snow intensified. By the time the train made its way out of town for its first run of the day, we had experienced near whiteout conditions and things got real quiet. With a typical steam train, you would expect to hear wheels clacking against the rails and steam puffing from the stack. But to my surprise, the snow seemed to envelop and muffle the familiar sound of the locomotive. As the train bellowed down the snowy rails, it was visible that the pine trees struggled to support the weight of the fresh snow, and the cornfields became covered in a white blanket. The autumn-colored leaves indicated that perhaps the trees were also caught off-guard by the storm. An image from the day, aptly named “Train on a Snow Day”, placed second in the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s 2014 Awards Program.
Do you enjoy seeing your work interpreted on book covers? Is it how you might have imagined, or completely different?
Yes I do. We all interpret a scene differently, it’s what makes us individuals. I enjoy seeing how others, such as the graphic artist of a book cover, takes my photograph and add their own style, flair, and techniques to enhance. The final results have been beyond my expectations; very pleasantly surprised every time.
Here are some of Matthew’s images on book covers designed by the very talented Erin Dameron-Hill.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your photography?
Throughout life, we all seek our own way in the pursuit of happiness, to find something that’s going to set us apart from the pack, mold our life into something special, and discover the sense in it all. We test different things to determine what will help us in our quest, push us beyond our own limits, and achieve our dreams. My galleries capture my travels and experiences across our countryside. Some near home, others far away and remote, all uniquely memorable. It’s a passion that has taken me to where I am in life today. My hope is that someday my portfolio will be an inspiration to others interested in this hobby I truly love. I’m confident that one day I will capture my most spectacular image. Until then, each photo tells the story of lost time, remembered.
While Matthew continues to pursue his dream of capturing soul-stirring images of an era long past, I continue to pursue my dream to write stories that will transport readers to the past and connect them to the hopes and dreams of others and themselves.
I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to share them with you, dear reader.
Enjoy a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
With fondness and gratitude,