While visiting friends over the holidays, I was handed a book titled “The Last Steam Railroad in America” featuring the photographs of O. Winston Link. The photos, from the 1950s, were of the Norfolk and Western Railway. Many of them were taken at night. I was stunned by their quality and amazed that I had never heard of this master of photography until now.Looking at the photographs, I at first thought they had been shot using large spotlights or other continuous lighting techniques. The scenes were so precisely lit that I couldn’t imagine them lit by flash. On reading the text I discovered that Link did indeed use flash. He would wire series of approximately 40 flash bulbs together and synchronize them with the camera shutter as a large locomotive roared through the shot at 60 mph.
The photographs were mostly ignored for 20 years. Back then, small cameras were becoming popular and natural lighting was the vogue. These grand, staged photographs resembling dioramas were thought old fashioned. Link did not in any way seem concerned about this and went about documenting the last days of steam in his own way. He used thousands of feet of electrical cable and crates of flash bulbs pulled along behind his car in a trailer. Many of the photos took months of planning with several visits to the site to make precise lighting diagrams.
In getting to know this major American photographer I have discovered there is a lot written about him. He is the only American photographer to have a whole museum dedicated to his work. Therefore, there is no point me repeating what has already been said. I have shared a few links in this article that you can follow. I am sure that in following them you too will realize what an amazing photographer O. Winston Link was.
Above: One of the many wonderful photographs taken in the last days of steam on the Norfolk and Western Railway by O. Winston Link.
Shot using 43 flash bulbs fired simultaneously.