Back to Photography: John Fasulo

John Fasulo

JOHN FASULO‘s passion for the railroads plays an important role in his photography. His meeting, when he was in his early twenties, with David Plowden — an American photographer whose book Farewell to Steam (1966) chronicled the end of the steam era in North America — fueled his life-long interest in capturing images of railroads, trains, factories, as well as diverse personnages and neighborhoods that reflect the life of the working class.

For twenty-three years, Fasulo worked as a broadcast television cameraman in New York City for television networks such as CBS, NBC, WOR, and CNN. His various syndicated television shows include Inside Edition, Geraldo, and Rush Limbaugh. He was also the producer/cameraman for On the River, an half-hour weekly program on the history and environment of the Hudson River (WTZA TV, Kingston, New York).

Now retired from broadcasting, he is devoted full-time to photography. As an artist, he pursues lyricism as much as realism. His photographs have been featured in Railroad Illustrated Magazine, Trains Magazine, and ModelEisenbahn Magazine. His work is permanently housed in venues such as The Mercantile Library (University of Missouri), and the German Railway Museum. An exhibit of portraits is also scheduled for this spring at the Daniel Aubry Gallery in New York.

Fasulo lives in Beacon, New York.

In your photo essay on the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge Fire in 1974 and in your reflection upon the end of the steam era in Germany’s Hof Mine, you mentioned that you were “in the right place at the right time.” How much of that decisive click relies on luck?

This is a multi-faceted question with more than one answer. For the bridge photos, being in the right place at the right time didn’t mean that the photos that I shot happened easily. From the highway to the top of the bridge required strong local knowledge of where the bridge came out on to grade and how to get there. Had there been a police presence or fire marshal at the east end of the bridge where I parked, I would not have gotten onto the bridge to get the images from the middle of the fight. Still, I could have been arrested at any point after making the decision to walk out onto the structure, since I was not technically a journalist working for a paper. When I was “in the mix,” as we say, the Fire Captain in charge was too busy to involve himself with my being there. He just said, “Stay out of the way.” I shot for about twenty minutes and left. By the time I was back on the highway, most of the fire was already contained.

The Hof photos “happened” because an uncle who was just retired from the DB, knowing of my interest in steam, told me that I had to go to Hof without explaining why. I felt it was an important enough venture to start out the next day, arriving in Hof by train late that evening. Getting permission did not come easily and I could have given up, leaving with only a few photos of steam engines taken from the vanatge point of any railfan. Had it not been for a curious railway poilceman’s intervention, who saw me enter and retreat from the superintendant’s office rather quickly, I probably would not have gotten the images that I finally came away with.

You have a perspicacious eye for capturing poignant portraits of working class people. How do you avoid stereotyping?

I think this is answered by the fact that I come from a working class background. My father worked in a printing plant as a laborer and my grandfather was a machinist for the New York Central Railroad. When looking at the railroad workers in particular, I have studied the photography of others who have documented this subject — O’Winston Link, David Plowden, Frank Barry, John Gruber and others whose work I admire. My photo of Kevin McGarvey, “The Engineer,” is an image that I hope — if I’m ever remembered at all for my photography — will be the one that I’m most identified with. Kevin was more than a photo-subject. He became a friend.

Another photographer that I admire is August Sander who took photos of everyday people in their living environments. I do portraits of people that I come in contact with, be they people that I know or strangers… it doesn’t matter. I first take an interest in them on a personal level. I’m genuinely interested in people and their jobs, their passions and sensibilities.

In the field, I try to keep things simple. I rarely change lenses, and prefer to use wider angle lenses for much of my work. I’ll often only take one camera on a photo excursion. I’m amused by photographers who have two or three cameras dangling from their necks, with lenses that seem to hit the ground! Long lenses create some great effects, and I appreciate those images; but I have always wanted to include the human side of railroading in my work, not just the motive power. While I enjoy the chase of an excursion train as much as the next guy, my preference is the image of the crew getting steam up and tinkering around the engine early in the morning; or a photo of a freight conductor hanging from a gondola switching out cars on a factory siding. That’s why you’ll see few roster shots from me and lots of images of railroad workers going about their jobs. Like Kertész, I’m looking for “the decisive moment.”

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