O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line : A Photographic Portrait of America's Last Great Steam Railroad, Hardback

O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line : A Photographic Portrait of America's Last Great Steam Railroad Hardback

5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


O. Winston Link is America's most celebrated railroad photographer.

Link began photographing the Norfolk and Western, the last major steam railroad in the United States, in the mid 1950s, when the N&W was converting its operations from steam to diesel.

Link's N&W project captured the railroad industry at a moment of transition, before the triumph of the automobile and the airplane that ended passenger service on the line and before the corresponding dramatic reduction in the workforce. And, just as importantly, Link's work reveals a small town way of life that was about to experience seismic shifts and in many cases vanish completely.

The images in O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line focus on the people and communities surrounding the railroad, in particular recording life in the Appalachian portion of the Norfolk & Western's service area.

The book is published in cooperation with the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia, which holds the complete archive of Link's N&W project.

It replaces two previous Abrams books on Link, Steam, Steel & Stars and The Last Steam Railroad in America.

O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line offers a broad view of the entire range of Link's portfolio of the last years of the Norfolk and Western in steam, including excellent examples of both the keystone work and of the photographs, such as modernist images, that have not been previously published.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 240 pages, Illustrations
  • Publisher: Abrams
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Individual photographers
  • ISBN: 9781419703720



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O. Winston Link was a professional commercial photographer from New York. He was also a railway enthusiast, and in the middle 1950s he took to recording the disappearing American steam railway. The pinnacle of his career was the Norfolk & Western project. Working with the full cooperation of the N&W management, he set out to make formal staged photographs of the railway and its locomotives. In the course of this, he also recorded a lot of small-town America in the period, and also made pioneering advances in synchronised flash photography.The images he made for the N&W project have become iconic images of `50s America, drawing comparison with Currier & Ives prints and Norman Rockwell's paintings. The N&W served the mining communities and industries of the Virginias, and Link's pictures also show the mines and the landscape. As a professional photographer, he was awake to contemporary trends in photojournalism, especially as portrayed in the magazines which were major vehicles for his commercial work. He was also published in enthusiast magazines of the period, and would have taken inspiration from some of the work of other enthusiast photographers who were also finding new ways of looking at their subject, such as Richard Steinheimer. Link was very much against "wedge shots", photographs where an approaching train was photographed from the three-quarter front aspect, with its train receding into the distance according to traditional perspective. Rather, Link in particular was concentrating on recording the whole railroad scene as steam began to disappear.It is interesting that the decline of steam gave rise to similar photographic movements amongst railway photographers on different sides of the Atlantic. The end of steam in the UK some 5-10 years later saw the rise of impressionistic photographers such as Colin Gifford whose work also set out to record the whole disappearing railway environment, Working almost exclusively in black and white, these photographers all made stunning images that encapsulate their era.Link also made a number of sound recordings and shot some film; he was looking to record the total railway environment and present that to the viewer as a multi-media experience (nowadays, an "installation"). A CD of previously unreleased recordings is included with this book.The book is exquisitely presented, on good paper. It goes into some degree of detail over Link's life, the origins of the N&W project, the different sorts of photographs - those including railroad workers, the locomotives themselves, the railroad environment and the wider communities the N&W served - and finally goes into considerable detail over Link's equipment and working methods.This book is essential reading for anyone wishing to photograph railways in any form; so many railway photographers, even those who claim to show "the train in its environment", are only producing "wedge shots". Those with no interest in railways will see the subject from a different viewpoint; and British enthusiasts, usually so insular, should look at this book and marvel. If you only have one book on American railways,this should be it.

Review by

Delightful book filled with mostly black and white images of early 20th century Appalachian area trains. Loved it, and I'm not even a train fanatic.