Several photographs of O. Winston Link are currently on display at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem in an exhibition entitled Trains that Pass in the Night showing from February 19-June 19, 2011. These black-and-white gelatin silver photographs feature images of steam locomotives set against the landscapes of Virginia and North Carolina. While these stunning images reminiscent of the film noir era in which they were taken offer a glimpse into a lifestyle that was at the time ending, they are awe inspiring for the elaborate planning necessary to capture many of the nocturnal images.
The photographs in and of themselves are quite breathtaking. Gorgeous contracts exist between the presence of the trains and the life that seems to continue on around them: people watching a movie at the drive-in, hanging out at the public pool, and even a group of elderly friends chatting on a porch as what must have been a loud steam engine locomotive passes by. But the clarity of the images of these trains in motion set against these seemingly colloquial interactions forces an appreciation for the choreographed facade, for many of these images were staged with but one opportunity as the train passed to be captured.
One photograph contains the photographer himself, his assistant, and their equipment. Looking at the various lamps and flash equipment then studying the crisp images of billowing plumes of steam as they are exhaled from the sleek locomotives as they travel by it is a marvel how brilliantly effective they worked. The lighting and timing are everything in Link’s work. Every detail was minutely attended to from the placement of the people, the direction of the lighting, to the schedule of the trains in order to capture a moment in time designed to depict an entire way of life. Link didn’t miss an opportunity, but he also made sure to create the optimum setting for what otherwise would have passed into the night and out of time unnoticed.
-Veronica Monique Ibarra