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Link’s haunting black-and-white photographs of steam locomotives chugging through small-town America

A criminal trial of Ms. Link, avidly pursued by the Westchester County prosecutor Jeanine Pirro, resulted in her conviction for stealing 1,400 photographs and assets valued at more than $1 million. Ms. Link maintains that those photographs don’t exist. They have never been found. After serving a five-year sentence, she was arrested again in 2003 after a sting operation caught her trying to sell 31 missing prints on eBay. 





Conchita and O. Winston Link, from the documentary “The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover.” 

‘The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover’ Explores a Marriage and the Art Market

Art, adultery, divorce, lawyers and pots of money: Paul Yule’s documentary “The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover” wades through the seamy mess surrounding the estate of the Brooklyn-born photographer O. Winston Link, who died in 2001.

Nobody comes off well in this he-said, she-said, they-said exercise in mudslinging, self-aggrandizement and moral one-upmanship, least of all the lawyers and prosecutors who twice helped to convict Link’s wife Conchita of theft.

Link’s haunting black-and-white photographs of steam locomotives chugging through small-town America in the 1950’s (just before steam trains were replaced by ones with diesel engines) received scant attention until 1983, the year he married Ms. Link; he was 73 and she 48. She became his agent and aggressively marketed his work, whose value skyrocketed.

Their initially happy marriage came apart in 1992 when Link accused his wife of keeping him a prisoner in the basement of their house and forcing him to make prints for her to sell. Years earlier, she had begun an affair with a consultant to gravel and asphalt companies, Edward Hayes, whom she married shortly after her husband’s death. She countered Link’s charges of theft and abuse with accusations that she was the one physically abused, and produced photos of her injuries to back up her story. Link’s lawyer, J. Edward Meyer, who appears in the film, maintained that her facial wounds came from plastic surgery.

A criminal trial of Ms. Link, avidly pursued by the Westchester County prosecutor Jeanine Pirro, resulted in her conviction for stealing 1,400 photographs and assets valued at more than $1 million. Ms. Link maintains that those photographs don’t exist. They have never been found. After serving a five-year sentence, she was arrested again in 2003 after a sting operation caught her trying to sell 31 missing prints on eBay.

In an extended interview, portions of which are woven throughout the movie, Ms. Link back in prison, calmly states her side of the story. Some of what she says convinces, and some doesn’t. In her version of events, her husband became increasingly senile, paranoid and vindictive in his declining years and was encouraged by his lawyer in his belief that he was being victimized. The scandal, of course, only increased the value of Link’s work.

The film is an update of Mr. Yule’s 1990 documentary “O. Winston Link: Trains That Passed in the Night,” which portrayed the couple as happily married. Although the new documentary has a generous selection of Link’s wonderful photographs, it is not only inconclusive about who victimized whom, it is also visually prosaic. This is the kind of story better left to tabloid television or the pages of Vanity Fair. A sad commentary on the inflated art market and its vulture mentality camouflaged by highbrow trappings, the movie comes across as an example of the very exploitation it observes with a raised eyebrow.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER, HIS WIFE, HER LOVER

Opens today in Manhattan.

Produced and directed by Paul Yule; edited by John Street; music by Donald Fraser; released by First Run/Icarus Films. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, South Village. Running time: 79 minutes. This film is not rated.

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