Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover

Illustration for article titled The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover

The late photographer O. Winston Link wasn't a well-known American cultural figure, except among the devout circle of camera buffs and railroad hobbyists who followed his work for decades. Link made a small impact in the '50s, when he did night shoots of trains as they rolled through small-town America, but he didn't get really successful until the '80s, when he met and married Conchita Mendoza, who marketed his work and made him a lot of money. A decade later, the marriage ended in chaos, with Mendoza accused of keeping Link prisoner and forcing him to keep cranking out assets, and Link accused of dementia and abuse.

Paul Yule tells the story of the divorce in The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover, a fairly sensationalist video-shot documentary that weighs the memories of Link's friends and supporters against rebuttals from Mendoza, her lawyer, and the locomotive restorer she slept with for years behind Link's back. Yule has a reputation for making movies about American grotesquerie, but aside from some unnecessarily ominous music and a few first-person interjections, The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover stays pretty neutral. Instead, Yule plays up the mystery, jumping from the comments of friends who remember Link as a raging bigot and misanthrope—a "nut," according to one—to the glowing reminiscences of the New York prosecutors who helped put Mendoza away for stealing her ex-husband's prints.

Yule's preoccupation with legal details keeps him from delving enough into the vagaries of the photography market, aside from noting the irony that Mendoza is largely responsible for the value of the prints she stole. But the movie does poke tantalizingly at the very idea of an open-and-shut case. Both Mendoza and her accusers agree generally on the facts of what happened with her marriage and her theft, but they disagree on what those facts mean. It's sort of like how two people can look at the same photograph, and one can see a record of a place and time, while another can see art.