Trains That Passed In The Night: The Railroad Photographs Of O. Winston Link

August 30 - November 12, 2000
Contact: Bernard Barryte, Chief Curator/Associate Director, 650-725-0466; or Jill Osaka, Public Relations Manager, 650-725-4657.

STANFORD, CA MAY 2000—In 1955, O. Winston Link (b. 1914), a successful commercial photographer, began to photograph the environs and life associated with the Norfolk and Western Railway, the last steam-powered system in America. By the time the railway ceased operations in 1960, Link had amassed a large and extraordinary body of work. Selected from this corpus, the 79 images in Trains that Passed in the Night: The Railroad Photographs of O. Winston Link are remarkable both for the technical virtuosity that underlies their creation and for the compelling narratives they contain.

Rather than merely recording the appearance of people, places, and massive machines, Link's photographs were staged to surpass the documentary. Using engineering skills refined on secret military projects during World War II, Link developed an elaborate portable camera and lighting system. Though he photographed in daylight as well, his capacity to produce an instantaneous blaze equal to 50,000 watts of illumination enabled him to work at night and fabricate specific effects that enhanced the dramatic content of each carefully composed image. The manipulated illumination transforms the mundane and transitory into the idealized and eternal, the flash of light imbuing the commonplace with a sense of absolute psychological and geometric clarity. With a notable absence of nostalgia, he created vignettes that ennoble the places in which they were enacted and that celebrate a passing way of life in which the railway was wholly integral.