Artists, Photography

Westward the Course of Empire

Mark Ruwedel
With an essay by Jock Reynolds

2008 Best Photography Books of the Year, Photo-Eye magazine

The success of his book is not only that it makes us consider what was achieved and what was lost, but that it shifts our thoughts forward, to think about ways in which, this time around, we might not plunder with so much enthusiasm and abandon at such cost. —Liz Jobey,

The beautiful, oversized, full-page views made by Ruwedel’s large-format camera are reminiscent of the work of Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge. This is a very attractive book on a subject (“ghost” railroads) that is ignored by all but the best railway historians, like David Myrick; and, even then, not usually from an aesthetic point of view. —Richard H. Dillon, California Territorial Quarterly

Mark Ruwedel (born 1954) has photographed the American West for the past twenty-five years, revealing the narratives—both geological and human—contained within the landscape. This stunning book presents more than 70 prints from Ruwedel’s ongoing series Westward the Course of Empire, an inventory of the residual landforms created by the scores of railroads built in the American and Canadian West since 1869.

The grades, cuts, tunnels, and trestles depicted in Ruwedel’s photographs speak to a past triumph of technology over what was often perceived as hostile terrain, as well as to the desire and struggle to create wealth and power from the land. Long abandoned (and in some cases never completed), the railroads also evoke the futility of the enterprise. This book is thus a sublime yet restrained elegy to the land and to the follies and wonders of human ambition.

180 pages / 14 x 11 inches / 72 tritone illustrations / Distributed by Yale University Press / 2008
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-0-30014-134-4
    Price $65; Members $52