Steam in my Lens: the Reginal Batten Collection – Malcom Batten

When I started reviewing ARC online, I decided I would read both the genres I was already interested in and find something new. Check what the editorial world had to offer, try this and that for size, divebomb in uncharted territory and see what would happen.

Steam in my Lens, by M. Batten, is a perfect Uncharted Territory example. While photography is my lifeblood, I know precious little about trains. It never occurred to me that someone would dedicate a good portion of their life chasing locomotives and taking their pictures. In hindsight, I’m not sure how I managed to overlook something so obvious.

Mr. Batten, Sir? Thank you for showing me the beauty of old trains and teaching me new things! I was sad to hear of your passing, but also happy to see how your life’s work had been preserved.

Reg Batten was a railway and transport photographer, who started taking pictures in the early 1930s, mostly on the Great Northern and Great Eastern sections of the L N E R.

He later started taking pictures elsewhere on the railway network, covering other companies, also looking at other forms of transport like traffic on the river Thames.

This is the first book of Reg Batten’s work, covering his railway photography from the early 1930s, through wartime into the 1950s, and steam on into the preservation era. This volume not only covers locomotive types but also looks at locations and interesting features of the railway scene at that time.

Cover: Majestic. Have a look.

Yay!

  • SIML is a recount of Reginald’s life, sometimes told in first person and sometimes narrated with the help of his son, Malcolm. An avid photographer, Reginald traveled through the countryside and documented both life and trains. While I didn’t have the privilege to see his country shots (aw!), his railway ones are very nice.
  • The black and white photo collection is astounding. To the untrained eye, all those locomotives (or loco, as mentioned in the book) look alike; at first I was all ‘uh?’ myself, no lie. Then I started hunting for details, comparing a Grand Parade with a Claude Hamilton, say, and the differences unfurled under my eyes. Try that out, too: it’s not immediate, but it’s there. And that’s where beauty lies. (‘A poet, too!’ – semicit.)
  • Interspersed among the pictures, there are anecdotes and reminiscences straight from Reginald’s lips. Someone called them ‘microhistory’, which is spot on. It’s interesting to hear what war was like to him, his memories – from getting pickpocketed on his way home to climbing a dung heap just to take a picture of a church. All this makes SIML even more real, so to speak.
  • Sometimes the book gets a little technical, but not overly so. I followed along without issues and learned a bunch. I also had a little private laugh at some point. You see, my kid loved Thomas the Tank Engine when he was little, and a couple pictures, a particular shot? I could superimpose the image of Thomas or one of the other characters on them.
  • Good prose, it flows and it doesn’t get boring.

Special mention:

  • Silver Jubilee. So elegant.
  • Sea Eagle. This is my go-to standard image: someone says, ‘steam engine!’ and I picture the Sea Eagle. 
  • A passenger train crossing a viaduct. I love landscapes!
  • BR 2-6-4T passing a signal box. It’s a colored picture, bright and cheery.

Nay!

  • As it often happens with e-books, sometimes it’s hard to match captions and text with the correct photo. Also, some pictures around the end appear stacked. Maybe I would have added a border or a divider.

TL;DR

4 stars on GR. I really enjoyed SIML! 

2 thoughts on “Steam in my Lens: the Reginal Batten Collection – Malcom Batten

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