My Best Shot


NPhoto - - Contents - Keith Wil­son

De­nis Thorpe shares his muchim­i­tated shot of the Rib­ble­head Viaduct

In the mid-1980s Bri­tish Rail at­tempted to close the Set­tle-Carlisle rail­way line, spark­ing a pub­lic outcry. The fo­cus of the cam­paign to save the line was the Rib­ble­head Viaduct in York­shire. Bri­tish Rail said it was un­safe and too costly to re­pair. To il­lus­trate what was at stake, Guardian pho­tog­ra­pher De­nis Thorpe trav­elled to the head of the val­ley.

“I like to shoot into the light,” says De­nis. “The first time I thought there might be an en­thu­si­ast’s steam train go­ing across the viaduct, I went over there.” De­nis took his Nikon F2, mo­tor­drive, and 35mm f/2 lens fit­ted with an or­ange fil­ter.

De­nis knew he had only a brief chance to cap­ture the lo­co­mo­tive as it tra­versed the 400-me­tre viaduct’s 24 spans. “I de­cided I would use the mo­tor­drive but not like a burst,” De­nis re­calls, “just to take in­di­vid­ual frames, so it would wind on im­me­di­ately… There’s only one frame that works and it works beau­ti­fully be­cause the smoke from the en­gine echoes the shape of the hill be­hind it.”

The re­ac­tion

The Guardian pub­lished the photo across the width of the front page, but it was cropped to form a panoramic im­age. De­nis missed out on the press pho­tog­ra­phy awards at the time, but the pub­lic re­sponded strongly to the im­age. “The Guardian must have sold hun­dreds and hun­dreds of copies of it by now,” he says.

Even­tu­ally, the line was saved, the Rib­ble­head Viaduct re­paired, and the oc­ca­sional steam lo­co­mo­tive can still be pho­tographed there.

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