The Last Steam Trains: O. Winston Link
While performing secret war research for the US Government during WWII, O. Winston Link became fascinated with railroad photography. With some tracks right behind his lab, he would go out during his off hours to photograph the trains that were there, which began a life-long obsession. In 1955, he was granted permission to access the tracks of the Norfolk & Western Railway, the last large steam-powered American railroad. Over the next five years, and using his own personal funds, Link produced 2,400 images of a period in history he knew would soon be ending. Preferring to shoot at night, he found the biggest obstacle to overcome was lighting. But, rather than shoot during the day when the light was harsh and he couldn’t control it, he came up with his own solution. Using homemade equipment such as flashbulbs (as many as 60) and a battery-capacitor power supply, which could be synched to three cameras, each image would take hours of preparation, sometimes up to two days. Although he was using his own money to fund the project, the railroad did give him keys to the phone boxes so that he could communicate with the engineers. This allowed him to ask the engineers to have the trains change speed, reverse and pass again, or even clean the engine so it would produce billowy, white steam. The timing had to be absolutely perfect and, when it worked, Link was able to capture gorgeous, cinematic images. Not only was he a pioneer of night photography, O. Winston Link was one of the first photographers to show that industrial photographs can also be works of art.