I’m going to start this piece by declaring that, at no time in my life have I ever been a trainspotter or engine enthusiast. No, it’s not that particular obsession which feeds my appreciation of the technical ability and art of O. Winston Link – who?
Ogle Winston Link (1914 – 2001) was an American photographer, originally from Brooklyn, New York City. Introduced to photography as a boy by his father, Link went on to achieve a degree in Civil Engineering. Whilst at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn he served as ‘photo editor’ for the institutes’ newspaper. He later moved into photography proper.
Link had a longstanding love of railroads (probably resulting from his training as a Civil Engineer), particularly steam, which became sharply focused by the impending conversion of the railroads to Diesel power in the mid-’50s. Link became heavily involved with the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) one of the last steam railroads in America.
Link’s work was self-financed, though he was encouraged by N&W officials from the President of the railroad downward. He had full access to all areas.
However, let’s not dwell too much on the railroad aspect per se, though of course, it is the main subject of his work. No, it is the sheer technical excellence of his work which floored me when I first came across it.
For anyone who has struggled with any form of lighting, even using a simple set up, Link’s work is a majestic tour de force of lighting, it is simply brilliant if you will forgive the pun.
Together with his assistant, he used banks of flash and wiring for light, sometimes dozens of flash heads and bulbs were used to achieve perfect exposures of not only the rolling stock but the environs through which they passed – providing, as he did, social comment in so doing.
The classic image demonstrating his mastery is the image of an engine the “Hotshot Eastbound” taken in a drive-in movie theatre in Virginia.
The image is sharp and well lit from the very close foreground to the engine passing in the far distance – and all without ‘blowing out’ the movie screen showing an aircraft. Brilliant.
Asked why he took his pictures at night he said…
“I can’t move the sun — and it’s always in the wrong place — and I can’t even move the tracks, so I had to create my own environment through lighting.”
Links later personal life was ‘unfortunate’ with his 2nd wife being imprisoned for selling his pictures. Nevertheless, Link will be remembered for his mid 50’s nighttime shots showing ‘small town / big steam’ America. An evocative series of images of a time long gone.
For anyone who wishes to see technical excellence coupled with 1950’s social interest then his books are a must – whether you like trains or not they are a joy.
Amazon has some a selection online here…