Article published Jan 22, 2005
Re-creating a picture with 100 photographers
Link celebrated in Waynesboro
By Jonathan D. Jones/staff
WAYNESBORO —The hundred or so photographers, amateur and professional alike, lugged their tripods and cameras down onto the Norfolk Southern tracks.
They went down an old wooden staircase on a cold January night. They crossed the rails onto a gravel path, freshly laid just for them.
All so they could take a look at, and a few frames of, a brightly lit train sitting in the same spot where a Norfolk & Western steam engine passed 50 years earlier.
The spot that O. Winston Link froze with a picture of station agent Troy Humphries holding out a message loop for the passing engineer.
Gone was the steam train. In its place stood a 4,000 horsepower Norfolk Southern diesel.
Gone was Link's elaborate, home-made lighting kit. In its place were bright, generator-powered lights of Ostram Sylvania, the company that made Link's favorite flash bulbs.
Gone too, was the Waynesboro train station, which was torn down in 1986.
But it didn't matter to the Link admirers, or the train buffs, who came out to commemorate the anniversary of an adventure. Link's Waynesboro photograph was the first of what became a five-year project chronicling steam trains on the N&W.
The series was largely ignored until the 1980s when it gained international renown in the art community. Link's work captured a vibrant vision of rural America in the late 1950s and made its way to museums in England, Japan and across the United States . He eventually published two books from his N&W pictures.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Gary Mullis, 42, of Staunton, who met Link once years ago in Roanoke and became a fan. "How often do you see two big corporations coming together to do something like this? None of them had to do this."
The lecture and photo shoot were organized by the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first photograph in Link's N&W series. Link passed away in 2001 at 86.
The engine on display normally hauls freight, said Mel Crawley, superintendent of Norfolk Southern's Virginia division. The three passenger cars are holdovers from Norfolk Southern's now-defunct passenger business and date to the late 1940s.
For Nathan Simmons, 18, of Staunton, the timing couldn't have been better. He's an avid rail fan who regularly photographs trains on the Norfolk Southern line. Just a couple of months ago, Simmons decided to try re-creating a few of Link's photographs. He even scouted a few spots out.
'I was wanting to get into the night time end of taking pictures," Simmons said referring to Link's rail pictures, which were mostly taken at night.
The photo session followed a brief lecture by Link historian Tom Reevy, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. More than 100 people attended.
After everyone took their chance to recreate Link's photograph, organizers provided a little bit of an encore performance.
An engine from the Buckingham Branch Railroad rolled across the CSX tracks overhead the Norfolk Southern train and came to a halt.
Flashes pierced the night and the two trains, for a moment, were like a pair of movie stars posing on the red carpet while their admirers froze the moment.
"Some people call us crazy," Simmons said. "I call us dedicated."
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