William Rittase was a master at posing evocative photos. Here he has especially lighted the cab of an H-8 Allegheny type locomotive as the engineer peers ahead and the fireman checks the firebox in this photo from 1945. Of course, in reality, he was taking the photo as the engine stood still in the Clifton Forge, Va. terminal, yet he gave it life, spirit, movement, and energy. (William rittase, C&O Ry. Photo, C&OHS Collection, CSPR -87)
Published March 31, 2023
In the early 1940s William M. Rittase was hired by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) to produce photographs for use in marketing, advertising, and public relations.
Rittase was an accomplished photographer best known for his work with Fortune magazine in the 1930s. His work is now considered among some of the best and most artistic depictions of American industry. Yet he is little known outside of certain art circles and very little is known about his personal history. He passed away in 1968 in near obscurity with a published obituary of only a few lines.
His legacy is his photographs. He described his photographic philosophy this way:
“The photograph must be of something of close interest to the reader, perhaps possessing human emotions, naturalness, strength of portrayal, and an unusual viewpoint.”
Those photographs are now the subject of a new book, William Rittase, Photographer and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, published by the Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society with the help of a Virginia Humanities grant.
Here, we present a selection of photos from the book taken in Richmond, Newport News, Clifton Forge, Lee Hall, and Covington Virginia. To see more of his work and learn more about Rittase, purchase a copy of the book from the C&O Historical Society.
A Constellation of Blackness: Rendering Invisibility, Hypervisibility, Devaluation, and Triumph An Artist’s Talk with Veronica Jackson 6:00 PM, Friday, October 13, 2023, at the Virginia Center for the Book
October 13, 2023 | 6PM – 7:30PM | Virginia Center for the Book, Charlottesville VA