Lost Leviathans

November 7, 2011 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Books | Comment |

Lost Leviathans - The World’s Last Working Steam Locomotives is a new title from Milepost Publishing, featuring 300 colour photographs by Colin Garratt. The photographer, who used to work as an office clerk at the Leicester Midland Motive Power Depot, has dedicated his life to documenting the demise of the steam engine by travelling around the world photographing the last remaining locomotives. The 224-page hardback is available for £30.

Milepost Press Release

Lost Leviathans - The World’s Last Working Steam Locomotives

by Colin Garratt
“The sight and sound of steam toiling across the landscape is one of the most sublime experiences known to man. Like the trumpeting of an elephant on the African savannah, the roar of a lion in the jungle at night, or the howl of a wolf on the Siberian Plain, our world will be poorer when they are gone.”

Colin Garratt has dedicated his life to documenting the demise of the steam engine by travelling around the world photographing the last remaining locomotives and how they mark the landscapes of our forgotten world. The resulting book, Lost Leviathans - The World’s Last Working Steam Locomotives, is a celebration of 40 years of painstaking work undertaken by the man dubbed “the David Attenborough of the steam locomotive”.

The photographs Garratt has taken serve as a testament to how Garratt’s obsession with trains began at an early age and he failed his eleven plus examination as his schoolwork suffered due to the dominant role railways played in his life. At employment age he worked as an office clerk at the Leicester Midland Motive Power Depot where he learned from the inside about the institution he loved. It was during this time that British Railways drew up its Modernisation Plan to phase out steam traction over the next 25 years. “By 1960 I realised that many things which mattered to most to me were threatened with annihilation ... the steam locomotive, after a century and a half of supremacy, was about to disappear for ever. It was incomprehensible to me to see the greatest steam locomotives - engines we had all grown up with - going to the scrapheap, but this was the reality”, says Garratt.

Not only was steam replaced but in the 1960s one third of the country’s stations were to be closed and 5,000 miles of lines were abandoned. This led Garratt to tour the country photographing abandoned engines lying closed in depots around the country to create a pictorial legacy of their demise. Garratt then embarked on a series of expeditions abroad, few lasted less than three months and he visited Latin America for seven months. Garratt to date has made 20 trips to China and eight to India. What he discovered is that the extinction of steam will not pass in Yorkshire, Lancashire or Wales, but is likely to be laid to rest in the coalfields of Inner Mongolia.

As a photographer, Garratt is highly skilled and ironically, given his love of an obsolete technology, embraced digital cameras with aplomb. In fact Garratt found that the instant nature of digital allowed him to create an even more intimate bond with his subject while creating images of a breathtaking quality.

Garratt starts his opus with a series of photos in the “Veteran Trains” chapter that shows 100-year-old trains operating in countries as diverse as India and Spain. These centurions pictured in action mainly in the 1970s show locomotives built in Manchester and Stafford being used in much more exotic climes.

Britain’s industrial revolution touched all corners of the globe. The 40 chapters, 224 pages and 300 colour photographs are more than one man’s obsession but also beautifully chronicle a bygone age still clinging on in parts of the developing world.

This book has been described by Ian Hislop as “Stunning - Trainspotting becomes Art”.

Garratt then moves on to the “Smoky Sheds” of Catalonia, China and South Africa. Photographs in this chapter are reminiscent of the scenes that would have inspired French impressionist Claude Monet.

The most dramatic photography is collated in “Fire Throwers” where photos of flames and sparks issuing from chimneys of engines come alive on the page. “Waiting for the Dido” are pictures of workmen’s passenger trains used in places such as China and Mongolia. “Shunters and Bankers” are Garratt’s photos of the elusive locomotives made obsolete as soon as the 1930s. “Rameshwara Jute Mill” is a pictorial collection of the historic mill near India’s BiharProvince.

But the essence of Colin Garratt can be summed up in these words ...
“When I finally go to join that great motive power depot in the sky it won’t matter quite so much, because I know there are steam trains in heaven.”

Lost Leviathans - The World’s Last Working Steam Locomotives
By Colin Garratt
Published by:  Milepost
Publication date:  November 2011
Price:  £30
Jacketed hardback
ISBN:  9781903025192

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