Sheldon Museum of Art


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All images are copyright by the original artists. Publication copyright 2000 The Regents of the University of Nebraska


Winston Link was a young practitioner of an old photographic tradition, one still much used, but which now commands little public notice. He developed a strong personal style within the technique of using cameras that were usually fixed in place, mounted on heavy tripods and using large negatives, typically 4 x 5 inches in size. The dynamic qualities of photographs made this way came through their careful planning: the precise placement of the camera, and equally careful placement of the lighting sources, with people and objects also being arranged with an eye for the final effect. Photographs using this technique were (and still are) made by the millions for advertising and illustrative purposes. While this manner of photography is still widely used, we have come more often to think of photographic "truth" through another aesthetic, one created by photographers using small hand held cameras. Sometimes described by the generic term "street photography," photographers who work in this way usually move rapidly and invisibly through their surroundings, making images using only the light available and leaving the environment untouched and unchanged.

Not only did Winston Link use a different photographic technique, his motivations were different from street photographers. His interest, in all his work, was to create as precise and careful a record as possible of the scene being photographed. Using lessons he learned from his commercial advertising photography, Link had less interest in documenting life as he found it than in creating images of life as he (or his clients) might wish it to be. Thus in his railroad photos, Link built a record that not only documented the locomotives and trains themselves, but emphasized the benefits of the railroad to the life of the communities through which it passed. He was, in his way, preparing and executing an advertising campaign for the "American Steam Railroad," and the good life in the United States which it supported. In many of his photographs, the passing train is incidental to the activity in the foreground, be it buying groceries, taking a swim or herding cows. Yet, even in the background, the steam railroad was still the essential element which stitched together Winston Link's personal vision of this good life in America.