Two men, one born in 1914 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the other born in 1956 in Los Angeles, share the same unmatched passion for photography, specifically for America, transportation and trains. This can be seen as part of the “All Aboard” exhibit at the Community Arts Center, sponsored by Danville Pediatrics.
O. Winston Link, a nationally-recognized photographer of steam engines, died in 2001 near his home in South Salem, N.Y., but the impacts of his photography career have reached far across the nation to inspire fathers and artists alike, such as L.A. native Eric Curry.
It was Link’s father who taught him the proper use and care of tools and introduced him to photography at a young age, which led Link to build his own photographic enlarger. Upon graduation from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, Link was offered a photography job at a public relations firm in New York City, where he worked for five years instead of pursuing a career in his major, civil engineering.
Link always had been captivated by steam locomotives and with the beginning of World War II, Link took a position with the United States government, stationed in a lab right in front of the Long Island Railroad. The close proximity of the railroad sparked Link’s pastime of photography and he soon recognized the one substantial problem with taking pictures of the railroad — lighting.
He once said, “You can’t move the sun, and you can’t move the tracks, so you have to do something else to better light the engines.”
Link took it upon himself to custom-build the flash equipment necessary for his large-scale railroad photos, which he preferred to take at night to capture the sight of the steam.
Soon after the war, Link became an independent professional photographer and quickly became known for his photos of complicated factory and industrial interiors. On the night of Jan. 21, 1955, with the permission of the Norfolk & Western railroad president, Link gathered his equipment and photographed the trains. During the next five years, Link made 20 trips to N&W’s tracks in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, producing a total of 2,400 images typically produced on 4-by-5 film with a Graphic View Camera.
The O. Winston Link Museum has loaned the Community Arts Center a stunning exhibit consisting of about 34 of Link’s best works, showcasing his attention to detail through his meticulous set up and position of his subjects. In taking night shots of moving trains Link only had one chance to capture the moment of the roaring train, the steam and the people.
Perhaps the pinnacle of his career and one of his most renowned works is the movie theatre image “Hot Shot Eastbound.” Link used a total of 43 flash bulbs, all fired simultaneously to achieve this magnificent result. Winston once said, “Since I could only see the headlight of the locomotive in total darkness, I did not know until the flash was fired that I had captured this prize.”
It was not the fame or fortune that interested O. Winston Link in photography, but rather being able to use his technical skills to document his subjects. Before long, Link discovered few people were interested in photos of an old technology and it was not until 1983 that his photography was acknowledged as works of art, and continues to motivate contemporary artists such as Eric Curry.
Eric Curry, “raised on sugary breakfast cereals and Saturday morning cartoons, with healthy doses of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ reruns thrown in for good measure,” was born and raised in Los Angeles, graduated from the public school system as an average student, and was “destined for greatness, or at least a career in the visual arts,” as he claims.
Curry attended Art Center College of Design in 1980, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in photography, where he specialized in studio still life and special effects. After graduation he moved to Denmark, to run his own advertising photography studio in the heart Copenhagen for 10 years.
Returning to the states several years ago, Curry made the transition to location commercial photography because it allows a much broader pallet of avenues for creativity. His works are not art for the masses, but as he refers to it, “Hyper-photographic industrial art that everybody can enjoy looking at.”
Curry’s show, titled “American Pride and Passion,” is featured as part of the “All Aboard” exhibit, highlighting the joy and passion he has discovered throughout the United States. Curry intends for his photos to look fake at first sight because they are “too nice.” The viewer is compelled to take a second glance, as Curry strives to create in these small two-dimensional worlds of the paper print, a place the viewer can wander about and explore, or escape for a few moments.
“I am basically taking 25 years of technical special-effects photographic knowledge, and applying it to objects that we all take for granted in our daily lives: old cars, planes, tractors, boats, etc., and more importantly, including the people who work with these otherwise ordinary pieces of equipment,” Curry has said. “By using those objects as metaphors for those same values, it is my hope that others will see the inherent truth lying just below the surface, that there are heroes hiding in plain sight.” That was evident this week when World War II veterans gathered around an airplane photograph to discuss whether or not it was a B-25 Bomber.
Winston Link and Eric Curry, although generations apart, found a common “train of thought” in photography through their desire to influence and document history as well as intrigue the viewer with each work. The Community Arts Center is fortunate to bring these two shows together for a once-in-a-lifetime display during the “All Aboard” exhibit.