A native of Brooklyn, O. Winston Link began his exploration of photography when, as a teenager, he built his own photographic enlarger and went to work for a local photography store. He attended Manual Arts High School and the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, working as a photographer and photo editor of the school’s newspaper. After graduating, he accepted a job as photographer for a public relations firm in New York. It was while conducting research for the federal government during World War II that Link began photographing steam locomotives; the Long Island Railroad ran trains on tracks right behind the lab where Link worked. After the war, he became a professional photographer and in 1955 started photographing the trains of the Norfolk & Western Railway, the only large steam-powered railroad remaining in the United States. After the last of the railroad’s steam engines was removed from service in 1960, Link continued his career as a professional photographer. His railroad images first drew widespread attention in the early 1980s, and the publication of the collection Steam, Steel & Stars in 1987 brought a wave of appreciation for Link’s images. His work has been exhibited across the United States, as well as in Europe and Japan. Link died in 2001.
The O. Winston Link museum opened in 2004 in the restored and refurbished Norfolk & Western Railway’s passenger station, in Roanoke, Virginia. Link was actively involved in planning the museum, whose collection includes more than 300 images, plus sound recordings, exhibits and a documentary film about the artist. The museum is owned and operated by the Historical Society of Western Virginia.
The museum’s collection focuses on Link’s photographs of the final days of the Norfolk & Western Railway’s steam locomotives. The images “are vignettes into history and sociology,” according to the museum’s website (linkmuseum.org). “They are art; they are a part of the history of photography and they are a tool to share an era with every person.”
The museum’s current show, O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line, continues through Feb. 11, 2013. The exhibit provides a broad overview of the photographer’s images documenting the people who lived in close connection with the Norfolk & Western Railway. Included are rarely seen photographs, such as portraits of the railroad’s employees and variants of Link’s most well-known images. An accompanying book includes previously unreleased sound recordings from the steam locomotives, many of which Link produced at the same time he took the photographs.
The museum is at 101 Shenandoah Ave., Roanoke, Va. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday. (Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m. during January and February.) Admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and $4 for children ages 3 to 11. Discounted rates are available for groups of 10 or more. For additional information, call (540) 982-5465 or visit linkmuseum.org