Mr. Link hails the train
The artist in O. Winston Link is well-hidden beneath a thick crust of avuncular, all-American down-to-earthness. What do fashionable people like actress Diane Keaton see in him?Skip to next paragraph
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He's the sort of man you expect to find enjoying a piece of pie in an all-night cafe off the lower reaches of Broadway at an unrespectable hour. And find him there you would, for he likes those kinds of places, and he keeps those kinds of hours.
But there is another side to Winston Link which the fellow he sits next to in the all-night diner would never guess existed beneath Link's determinedly Brooklyn exterior.
And that is O. Winston Link, art photographer of recent renown, whose series of black-and-white photographs of the now-extinct steam trains on the Norfolk & Western Railway in the eastern United States has the international photographic establishment reaching for superlatives. New York's Museum of Modern Art, London's Victoria and Albert Museum - and Hollywood's Miss Keaton - are among the purchasers of the drive-in movie photograph seen on this page.
Yet the pictures now exciting attention in New York, London, and Paris were taken 30 years ago, and their negatives have for the most part lain dormant in a bank vault beneath the Empire State Building.
For O. Winston Link is the quintessential example of a man who did something he wanted to do, not for fame, or for money, but because he loved it. That attitude has produced work of an artistic intensity which highly paid photographers in their sky-lit studios might never achieve in a lifetime of more calculated effort.
Financed by the money he made as a successful industrial photographer, Link poured a colossal portion of his own time, effort, and funds into taking more than 2,000 photographs of the trains he loved. And though it increased the technical preparations tenfold, Link decided the best time to photograph his trains was at night.
Now he's getting his due reward as someone who was always much more than merely a train buff with a good knowledge of photography. He has had a one-man show this summer in London, which attracted wide critical applause, and a major Link exhibition is in its final days at the International Center of Photography in New York before moving on to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va.
''I've never seen anything like his work,'' said Rupert Martin, exhibition director of the Photographer's Gallery in London, who launched Link's work there. ''It's unique and it works on several different levels. It works for railway buffs, for people interested in photography, and then there's the strictly human level. His pictures allow you to involve yourself in the lives of Americans in the 1950s.''
Link's initial decision - to take most of the photographs at night - brought the huge complications of lighting each scene for flash. Often he had only one chance to get the picture right during the few seconds in which the train he was waiting for passed by. But the night effects added power and intrigue to Link's results - and proved to be a way of showing off the white smoke of the steam train to beautiful advantage.
The trains course through the Winston Link series, past junctions, through towns, over bridges, gathering a strange cumulative significance.