As far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated by trains. Not only watching, but also riding them (once I even hitched a ride in a box car). In 5th grade, I believe it was, I received a packet of railroad photos from the American Association of Railroads which not only heightened my interest in railroads, but also take of photographing trains and railroad related themes.
Within that packet were a few photos taken by O. Winston Link. As a commercial photographer Link popularized the taking of railroad photos. However, more importantly, he pioneered night photography. You can imagine my delight, when in the mid-eighties I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Link in person. Just meeting him and viewing the originals of many of the photos that had captivated in the past, would have been enough. The icing on the cake, was to receive an autographed copy of one of his photos (“Green Cove”).
Ogle Winston Link, who was trained as a civil engineer, is best known for his black and white photos and sound recordings of the declining days of steam railroading during the 50’s. His favorite subject was the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Today these photos overshadow his other photography, which propelled him into the public notice. One of the first of his photographs to receive acclaim was “Girl on Ice” (or “What is This Girl Selling?”, a publicity image that was later featured in Life as a “classic publicity picture.”
Working in Staunton, VA on a industrial photography assignment in 1955, Link, who had always had a love of trains, became interested in the nearby Norfolk and Western yards. The N&W was the last of the Class 1 railroads to make the transition from steam to diesel, having recently refined the quality of their steam locomotives. Links documentation of the transition began on May 29, 1955 and ended the day that the railroad completed its transition in 1960. His last night photos of the N&W was taken in 1959.
Although many photographers took night photos, it was Link who developed new techniques for flash photography of large subjects. For example his Hotshot Eastbound photo (August 2, 1956) used 42 #2 flashblubs and one #0, all fired simultaneously. When as why he preferred night photography, he replied, “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.”
Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, VA: