Woody Packard

Words + Pictures

Time-Travel Train

Tractor Rescue, Баянбуурал
After spending a month in Ulaanbaatar we traveled to Darkhan this weekend, for Judy to present a workshop at a branch of her university there. We went by train, which for a photographer is both blessing and curse. It was a relief to get out of town and see the landscape to the north of the city, but lashed to the tracks as you are when traveling by rail you can only dream about a chance to come back with more time to spend. The last time we came to Darkhan the temperature was warm enough to travel with the windows open, so that it was possible to make quick snapshots without obstruction. A dozen degrees below freezing in a full car, that was not even a remote option, so what I saw I viewed through filthy glass, three layers thick.

Through the practice of photographing out of airliners I've learned that if you see something interesting, photograph first and then worry about how to process and present it later. From living in Mongolia—don't wait for perfect conditions. And so, if only for a recollection of what I had seen, I dealt with reflections and blobs of grime the best I could and on looking at the results, tried not to be too disappointed.

The more I looked at those results, the more they seemed to confirm a sense that what I had seen was something that could have been found here any time in the past seventy-five years. New car models and cell phones sometimes break the spell, as do fluorescent colors rendered with digital accuracy. But because of the dirty windows, some of the image quality that holds these pictures in the present was gone, and there are many places where there is not a new car in sight. In black and white, or in subdued color, the spell is nearly complete. You can easily imagine a time when railroad cars were heated with coal.

Close Story—Back to Pictures

Time-Travel Train

Ulaanbaatar Bound

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This fellow traveler boarded part way between Darkhan and Ulaanbaatar. Fleeing a seat filled with teenagers, she chose the seat we discovered by collapsing the table between us. Her shawl was very similar to Judy's, as was the color of her hair.