O. Winston Link, civil engineer and commercial photographer, turned a passion for steam-powered trains into a photographic homage to rural American life. Most widely recognized is Link’s signature image, Hot Shot Eastbound, known for its distinctive, cinematic presence, was fully orchestrated. To capture the train, Link devised elaborate flashbulb setups that allowed him to illuminate the night as day. In order to secure the exact moment the train passed Link not only carefully studied train schedules, but also interviewed locomotive engineers and scouted locations for the placement of his equipment. If necessary, to perfect his result, Link could also rely on the process of photomontage, as he did in this instance, inserting the movie scene after the fact.
Hot Shot Eastbound, being more than a document, is rather a musing about three eras of modern life colliding. The main subject, the Model No. 1242 locomotive operated by the Norfolk and Western Railway, the last steam line in America, was Link’s ideal, which he considered “the most beautiful engine ever built.”(1) Meanwhile, projected onscreen is the image of the future, jet travel, in a scene from the 1955 war film Battle Taxi. Taking it all in are the young lovers, who are fully in the present moment, enjoying the night air in the comfort of the photographer’s 1952 Buick Super convertible. While Link’s preoccupation with the steam engine and the Norfolk and Western was eccentric (he made more than 2,400 such images), the artistry and inventiveness of his documentation resonates today, offering an evocative noir-style glimpse into the 1950s.
1. Ken Johnson, “A Happy Accident, Carefully Planned,” New York Times, Sunday, 30 December 2007, Art section.