No photographer’s work has reached out and grabbed me like the work of O. Winston Link. To say that he took nighttime photographs of the last Norfolk and Western steam locomotives doesn’t do him justice. He takes you to a primal familiar spiritual landscape with his 1950s work in the Southern Appalachians.
With the owl as his emblem, O. Winston Link was a unique character…tireless and innovative in finding and lighting and photographing the trains streaking through the night. And at the same time, his human subjects were depicted with a remarkable degree of wistful intimacy.
One of his best known works, Hotshot Eastbound, shows the patrons of a drive-in theatre, huddled in their chrome-festooned automobiles, watching a jet plane on the movie screen while a locomotive speeds past. It is such a distinct image that the creators of the Simpsons recreated the scene, as David Bryant explains in a great story about an unusual tribute.
The Winston Link photography collected in Steam Steel & Stars is astounding, the story behind it equally so. One-time Link assistant, Thomas Garver, concludes the collection with this:
As we can now see, the romantic documentation of the vanishing machinery I thought was our sole purpose was only a fragment of his project’s final meaning. For what Winston has preserved may now be seen as a wonderful and much more complex vignette of the individual lives of small-town America, and that, too, has all but vanished.