O. Winston Link
Purchased by Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio, 1984
2014: "Along the Tracks: O. Winston Link" 6/7/14 - 11/9/14, Akron Art Museum
1986: "Photographs from the Permanent Collection" 1/28/86 - 4/6/86, Akron Art Museum
1983 - 1985: "O. Winston Link" tour, organized by the Akron Art Museum
6/4/83 - 7/3/83, Akron Art Museum
8/18/83 - 9/27/83, International Center of Photography, New York, New York
10/3/83 - 1/10/84, Chrysler Museum at Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia
5/21/84 - 6/8/84, Ohio State University Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio
6/25/84 - 9/30/84, Museum of Science & Industry Chicago, Illinois
10/12/84 - 11/30/84, Houston Center for Photography, Houston, Texas
4/25/85 - 6/9/85, Madison Art Center, Madison, Wisconsin
O. Winston Link notes on technique: "The exposure was made at 1/200 second, f11-f16 on EKCo Royal Pan film in a 4 x 5 Graphic View Camera with a 3-5/8" Wide Angle Dagor lens. 42 #2 and one #0 flash bulbs were all fired simultaneously for illumination. Since I could only see the headlight of the locomotive in total darkness, I did not know until the flash fired that I had captured this prize - Class A engine with beautiful smoke with all of it in range!!!
Were the project to be attempted today (1980), 25 years after it was done, I'd have a faster film for the photogrpahy and with Polaroid I could run a test for lighting. At the time, we did run a lighting test on film without a train and developed the film in a U-Haul trailer. Certainly, Polaroid would have made life easier but it wouldn't have improved the picture. Faster film would have helped but by composing around the view camera I was able to get good depth of focus. I would not have reduced the strength of the light sources by cutting down on the number of flash bulbs if the faster film was available. Whenever possible, I used EKCo Super Panchro Press Type B film because of its quality and that film was rated at ASA 100."
16 x 20 in., sheet
22 x 28 in., matt
O. Winston Link
Hot Shot Eastbound, Iaeger, West Virginia, August 2, 1956 (printed 1983 or earlier)
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
In Hot Shot Eastbound, Iaeger, West Virginia, Ogle Winston Link, it seems, was lucky to have captured one of those rare moments that photographers dream about: in this case, the simultaneous presence of a steam locomotive and the two modes of transportation that by 1956 were clearly its successors, the automobile and the airplane. In fact, Link carefully planned this and other photographs of steam locomotives in the Norfolk and Western Railway system.1
The project was a labor of love for Link, a freelance commercial photographer in New York whose clients included the BFGoodrich Company and Texaco. Although he never considered himself a rail fan, he was intrigued by trains as a child and renewed that interest during World War II. In the 1950s Link became concerned about the demise of the steam engine. An assignment in January 1955 took him near the tracks of the Norfolk and Western, the last main line in America to operate with steam equipment. He photographed a train on its run and, thrilled with the results, went on to take around 2,500 photographs of the company's steam locomotives, personnel, and facilities between 1955 and 1960.
Hot Shot, one of four works by Link owned by the museum, is one of his best-known images. As a commercial photographer, Link could create a photograph that was candid in appearance but in reality was contrived to promote an idea or product. In Hot Shot, a young couple cuddles at a drive-in movie; they were locals posing in Link's convertible in exchange for their admissions.2 Battle Taxi was showing that night; on the screen is a jet in flight.3 Like the car and the plane, the film is a dream machine that can transport the young couple to a world far away from this small coal town isolated in the hills of southern West Virginia. Link juxtaposes the jet with the Hot Shot, a freight train pulled by a Class A 1200 coal-fired steam locomotive—to Link's mind, "the most beautiful engine ever built."4
Night photography of trains had been attempted only rarely before Link because it presented a myriad of technical difficulties. He quickly became a virtuoso with the flash. Hot Shot required forty-three bulbs placed to illuminate the train, its smoke, the cars, and the couple. Bulbs and camera had to be synchronized to go off at the split second when the train was in the right place. Calculations and set-up had to be done in daylight, long before the arrival of the Hot Shot. Just before the photograph was taken, Link recalled, "I could only see the headlight of the locomotive in total darkness.”5
Since the light required to photograph the train wiped out the image on the film screen, Hot Shot is made from two negatives: one of the film and a second of the rest of the scene. These were then combined during printing, at first by simple collage, later by using two enlargers and a pin registration system, and finally, for the last dozen years, by printing from a copy negative of the combined image.6
Hot Shot is Link's carefully composed hymn to an idealized 1950s America, an era of innocence, prosperity, optimism, and leisure but also nostalgia for a vanishing America. Ironically, his Norfolk and Western photographs would not be widely exhibited or published until the early 1980s, when they were discovered by the art world. The Akron Art Museum played an important part in this process: Link's first solo museum show was held at the Akron Art Museum in June 1983.
- Barbara Tannenbaum, 2001
1. Much of the information in this entry is drawn from Link (1995) and a biography and bibliographic listing compiled by Thomas H. Garver, last revised in May 1997; typescript, Akron Art Museum files.
2. Thomas H. Garver, "Afterword: O. Winston Link and His Working Method," in Link (1987), 141.
3. In Link (1983), 44, the artist erroneously calls the movie Sky Taxi. Garver, however, discovered the film’s true title; author’s telephone conversation with Garver, November 1997. According to Garver, Link shot about half a dozen sheets of film of different images from the movie before shooting the rest of the picture—i.e., the locomotive and drive-in. A second version of Hot Shot may exist, supposedly produced for a Norfolk and Western Railway annual report. In that version, another image may have been substituted for the airplane.
6. The Akron work is one of the combination prints using a pin registration system.
Link, O. Winston. Ghost Trains: Railroad Photographs of the 1950s. With an essay by Carolyn Kinder Carr. Norfolk, Va.: Chrysler Museum, 1983.
———. Steam, Steel & Stars: America's Last Steam Railroad. With text by Timothy Hensley and afterword by Thomas H. Garver. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987.
———. The Last Steam Railroad in America: From Tidewater to Whitetop. With text by Thomas H. Garver. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.