My Best Shot
MY BEST SHOT
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 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.