O. Winston Link: A Turbulent Past

O. Winston Link’s photographs have infused Swann’s Photograph Department auctions with a consistent, quiet power for years, but lot 175 brings a new dramatic force to the October 17 sale. 

O. Winston Link, Hotshot, Eastbound, Iager, West Virginia,
special edition oversized silver print, 1956, printed 1991.

Hotshot, Eastbound, Iager, West Virginia is an uncommon oversized special edition silver print created by Link in 1991 for Danziger Gallery. The artist even reconfigured his darkroom in order to make space for the mighty prints. As Link labored to finish printing the photographs, his marriage to his young wife, Conchita, unraveled rapidly and she forced him from their home. Respectfully, Link vacated, and upon reentering their home after their divorce was finalized in 1993, he discovered that Conchita had stripped the house not only of his cameras and equipment, but also of thousands of prints, including the 20×24” special editions.

O. Winston Link, Link and Thom and Night Flash Equipment, silver print, 1956, printed 1997.

Conchita was subsequently arrested, indicted and convicted of grand theft in the first degree for stealing more than $300,000 through forging Link’s signature, misusing his bank accounts, and handing over $60,000 to her lover, a man named Edward Hayes who had been hired by Link to restore a steam engine that he owned. Conchita spent years in prison, but never confessed the whereabouts of the stolen goods. 

In 2003, after Conchita was released from prison, a suspect image turned up for sale in an online auction. Prosecutors conducted a sting operation in which an investigator posing as a corporate collector recovered 30 prints valued from $350,000 to $500,000. In 2004, Conchita and Edward Hayes, now married, pleaded guilty to the charges against them. The recovered booty consisted of more than 100 20×24″ prints 400 16×20″ prints approximately 1,000 additional O. Winston Link photographs, included early notebooks and writings, and the original ink stamp Link affixed to his prints: a total trove estimated at several million dollars.

O. Winston Link, Hotshot, Eastbound, Iager, West Virginia
special edition oversized silver print, 1956, printed 1991. Estimate $12,000 to $18,000.
 
The Hotshot Eastbound, Iaeger, WV being offered in the October 17 auction was held as evidence in the trial against Conchita Mendoza Link Hayes. The photograph has a special OWL hand stamp on verso indicating that this print was recovered from the successful sting operation against Conchita, who also altered the print date. The print is still in an evidence bag from the trial with glowing red Grand Jury Exhibit, People’s Exhibit, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service Forensic Laboratory stickers on the outside. 
The verso of the photograph in the October 17 auction.
 
Hotshot is from the Collection of Thomas Garver, a former assistant to O. Winston Link, who was subsequently Link’s agent, the author of Link’s second book of railroad photos and the organizing curator of the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia.
 
Thanks to Alex Van Clief in Swann’s Photographs Department for this intriguing blog post!