Ogle Winston Link (December 16, 1914 – January 30, 2001), known commonly as O. Winston Link, was an American photographer, best known for his black-and-white photography and sound recordings of the last days of steam locomotive railroading on the Norfolk & Western in the United States in the late 1950s. A commercial photographer, Link helped establish rail photography as a hobby. He also pioneered night photography, producing several well-known examples including Hotshot Eastbound
, a photograph of a steam train passing a drive-in movie theater, and Hawksbill Creek Swimming Hole
showing a train crossing a bridge above children bathing.
O. Winston Link and his siblings, Eleanor and Albert Jr., spent their childhood in the borough of Brooklyn, New York City, where they lived with their parents, Albert Link, Sr. and Anne Winston Jones Link. Link's given names honor ancestors Alexander Ogle and John Winston Jones, who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 19th century. Al Link taught woodworking in the New York City Public School system, and encouraged his children's interest in arts and crafts, and first introduced Winston to photography.
Link's early photography was created with a borrowed medium format Autographic Kodak camera. By the time he was in high school, he had built his own photographic enlarger. After completing high school, Link attended the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, receiving a degree in civil engineering. Before his graduation in 1937, he spoke at a banquet for the institute's newspaper, where he served as photo editor. An executive from Carl Byoir's public relations firm was present and was impressed by Link's speaking ability. He offered Link a job as a photographer.
O. Winston Link worked for Carl Byoir and Associates for five years, learning his trade on the job. He adapted to the technique of making posed photographs looking candid, as well as creatively emphasizing a point. On his first major assignment, to photograph part of the state of Louisiana in the summer of 1937, he found himself in New Iberia, the location where Cecil B. DeMille's 1938 movie "The Buccaneer", about Jean LaFitte was being filmed. Here he met his future first wife, a former Miss Ark-La-Tex, now actress/model/body double, Vanda Marteal Oglesby, who stood-in for lead actress Franciska Gaal. They 'took a shine' to one another and later that year she posed for some of his photographs in the French Quarter of New Orleans. They eventually married in 1942, but later divorced. Some of Link's photographs from this time included an image of a man aiming a gun at a pig wearing a bulletproof vest, and one eventually known as What Is This Girl Selling?
or Girl on Ice,
which was widely published in the United States and later featured in Life
as a "classic publicity picture.
According to Thomas Garver, a later assistant to Link, during his employment at Byoir's firm, Link "clearly defined a point of view and developed working methods that were to shape his entire career."
While in Staunton, Virginia, for an industrial photography job in 1955, O. Winston Link's longstanding love of railroads became focused on the nearby Norfolk and Western Railway line. N&W was the last major (Class I) railroad to make the transition from steam to diesel motive power and had refined its use of steam locomotives, earning a reputation for "precision transportation." Link took his first night photograph of the road on January 21, 1955, in Waynesboro, Virginia. On May 29, 1955 the N&W announced its first conversion to diesel and Link's work became a documentation of the end of the steam era. He returned to Virginia for about twenty visits to continue photographing the N&W. His last night shot was taken in 1959 and the last of all in 1960, the year the road completed the transition to diesel, by which time he had accumulated 2400 negatives on the project.
Although it was entirely self-financed, Link's work was encouraged and facilitated by N&W officials, from President Robert Hall Smith downwards. Besides the locomotives, he captured the people of the N&W performing their jobs on the railroad and in the trackside communities. Some of his images were of the massive Roanoke Shops, where the company had long built and maintained its own locomotives.
O. Winston Link's images were always meticulously set up and posed, and he chose to take most of his railroad photographs 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."
Although others, including Philip Hastings and Jim Shaughnessy, had photographed locomotives at night before, Link's vision required him to develop new techniques for flash photography of such large subjects. For instance, the movie theater image Hotshot Eastbound
(Iaeger, West Virginia), photographed on August 2, 1956 [negative NW1103], used 42 #2 flashbulbs and one #0 fired simultaneously. Link, with an assistant such as George Thom, had to lug all his equipment into position and wire it up: this was done in series so any failure would prevent a picture being taken at all; and in taking night shots of moving trains the right position for the subject could only be guessed at. Link used a 4 x 5 Graphic View view camera with black and white film, from which he produced silver gelatin prints.
From 1960 until he retired in 1983 Link devoted himself to advertising. Among notable pictures taken during this period are those recording construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and other views of New York Harbor including the great ocean liners. In retirement, Link moved to South Salem, Westchester County, New York. In 1996, Link's second wife, Conchita, was arrested for (and later convicted of) stealing a collection of Link's photographs and attempting to sell them, claiming that Link had Alzheimer's disease and that she had power of attorney. She served six years in prison. After being released, she again attempted to sell some of Link's works that she had stolen, this time using the Internet auction site eBay. She received a three-year sentence. Conchita was also accused of imprisoning her husband. However, this allegation is disputed by some, and it never led to any criminal charges against Conchita. The story of Winston and Conchita became the subject of the documentary "The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover"
(2005) made by Paul Yule.
Link made a cameo appearance as a steam locomotive engineer in the 1999 film October Sky
. He was actively involved with the planning of a museum of his work when he suffered a heart attack near his home in South Salem. He was transported to Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, Westchester County, NY where he died on January 30, 2001. Mr. Link was interred adjacent to his parents in Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, Jefferson County, West Virginia.
Link's reasons for shooting at night were simple. For one, it was more romantic and dramatic. For Link the trains were comparable to Garbo and Dietrich at their most glamorous. Secondly, steam from the trains against a night sky photographed white. Against a day sky it came out a dirty grey. Whatever the circumstances, Link's pictures were an intense labor of love. Indeed, he discovered, shortly after starting the Norfolk and Western project, that no one was much interested in photographs of a fast disappearing mode of transport. This was, after all, the beginning of the era of the great American car.
At first Link's photographs were appreciated for their combination of nostalgia, technical virtuosity, and – partly due to Link's famously cranky character and disposition - almost outsider artist's vision. But as photography has moved on, Link's work is increasingly seen and appreciated for the degree to which he controlled, planned, and constructed each image, prefiguring such well known contemporary artists as Gregory Crewdson
and Jeff Wall
, both of whom willingly acknowledge their interest in and appreciation of Link's work.
His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S., Europe and in Japan and is present in numerous major museum collections around the world. His rail photography is exhibited at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia, refurbished by the famous industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, which opened in 2004.
Source: Danziger Gallery