Taking a look at the most popular shots over the last week, this low-angle shot of a sugar cane carriage on a railway track sits top of the pile at the moment.

Sugar Cane Railway Carriage

A sugar cane car, full of produce, sits on a cane railway track in Queensland, flanked by its neighbouring cane cars.

Story Behind the Shot

Criss-crossing Northern Queensland, Australia, is a network of narrow gauge railway tracks that serve the vast sugar cane plantations in this sticky, humid environment. The railways are clearly king here: even the main road artery in this neck of the woods – the Bruce Highway route 1 – is carved by diagonal and perpendicular railway, slashing its way as it sees fit across the tarmac and bush. Road traffic is at the mercy of the Cane Trains. Sandwiched between the ferocious ocean waves of the Coral Sea and the sudden mountainous folds that keep the outback at bay is territory owned by sugar as far as the land is flat. In every one of the harvest seasons, empty cane carriages are deposited by fields, waiting to be filled with produce before rolling heavily to one of the giant sugar mills nearby to be chopped, boiled and refined into packages big and small for onward sale.

I like the rawness of it all. There is no prettiness here, no neat ordered lines as you would find on a passenger railway, or even a freight railway in a built up area. No sweeping curves to navigate around long-standing buildings or outcrops, no impressive engineering and artistry creating bridges and tunnels to carry the trains smoothly through busy cities. It is the simplest and quickest way of getting cane from point A to point B – raw cane, transported the raw way. I like that the carriage is a dull, dirty kind of mustard yellow – not dissimilar in colour to the cane it carries, and certainly not prettified or scrubbed up for anyone else’s benefit. I like that the cane has just been dumped into the car – no pretty levelling off at the top, no nice lid to keep the contents hidden. The rusty undercarriage is clear, as is the unkempt sidings and rails running alongside. This is functional and minimal.

Some technical and artistic notes

I wanted to provide a single clear subject that captured the raw functionality of the ‘blood vessels’ of Northern Queensland, and loved the pale browns and yellows of the recently harvested cane. When driving past this train of carriages that seemed to be painted in the same rough and ready ‘cane colour scheme’, I wanted to create the uncluttered, single-subject image, but also be aware that this is one long network: a rail system that snakes from one plantation to another; from one mill to another; from one community to another. This network is the circulatory system of a huge area of Queensland, and that sinewy outstretching feel should not be discounted in the name of creating a ‘clean’ shot. It was important to include hints of the neighbouring carriages when framing the shot. They allude to continuity, to the long stretching veins of the cane industry, without drawing focus from the dirty rough colours and lines of the single cane car. The inclusion of the foreground rails reinforce this notion of never-ending networks – and highlight the raw untidiness of the bush around the train. A wide angle was used to distort the rails – a similar image with level, flat, parallel lines did not make the grade simply because it appeared too contrived; too perfect, for this whole area of Australia.

What do you see? Rough and rural, or an unclean inefficiency? Remind you of something else?

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