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Exhibit Showcases ‘Elegant Corrosion’

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

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If black is beautiful, is rust ravishing?

Apparently so, if you’re photographer Colin Winterbottom, who documents the “elegant” face of corrosion in an upcoming exhibit at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA.

 The work of photographer Colin Winterbottom focuses on textures in urban landscapes.

 Photos: Colin Winter / Steamtown NHS

The work of photographer Colin Winterbottom focuses on textures in urban landscapes.

Steamtown NHS occupies about 40 acres of the Scranton railroad yard of the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, one of the earliest rail lines in northeastern Pennsylvania. 

Winterbottom’s “Elegant Corrosion” exhibit, which runs from July 1 to Oct. 31 at the Changing Exhibits Gallery, documents the corrosion, stains and peeling paint that afflict Steamtown’s rail collection.

‘Details in the Decay’

“Some see these marks as scars, degrading the mighty engines and hefty cars to useless relics; effacements that prove their obsolescence,” Steamtown said in a release. “Others look closer and find beauty in the corrosion.”

Winterbottom, of Washington, DC, is “among those who find fascination in the rust.”

Using macro-photography lenses, Winterbottom enlarges “the smallest details in the decay to the point of abstraction,” focusing on textures, patterns, shapes, lines and colors, according to Steamtown.

“The viewer’s mind often tries to create context for the images, a process that is as engaging as the photos themselves.”

The Color of Corrosion

“People often see these images as topographical satellite photos,” says Winterbottom. Some images “may look like flesh or leather, or are just total mysteries.”

“What I’ve come to appreciate in sharing these photos with people is that there are a limited number of shapes and patterns in nature, so the path [that] years of rainwater will travel as they run down the sides of a rail car are uncannily similar to the path a river cuts across a landscape.”

 Winterbottom started shooting the photos in his usual black and white but soon “learned that when it comes to rust and corrosion, color is integral to the textures rather than distracting.”
Winterbottom started shooting the photos in his usual black and white but soon “learned that when it comes to rust and corrosion, color is integral to the textures rather than distracting.”

Winterbottom usually works in black and white to capture the textures of urban landscapes.

He started the Steamtown project that way, “but found there was something missing from the photographs,” he said. ”I learned that when it comes to rust and corrosion, color is integral to the textures rather than distracting. So you could say I came to Scranton to discover color.”


Beautiful or not, however, the decades of accumulated corrosion are eating into Steamtown’s collection.

Ironically, therefore, even as the historic site celebrates corrosion’s elegant appearance, it will also begin a massive restoration project to “strip decades of rust and decay” from the park’s rail engines and cars “to renew their historic grandeur.”

Reminding us yet again that, as Dorothy Parker once famously observed, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Corrosion protection; Peeling; Railcars; Steel

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