Emmet Gowin

Emmet Gowin

KBr Fundación MAPFRE Photography Center

Emmet Gowin, Edith, Danville, Virginia, 1963. © Emmet Gowin. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

May 25, 2013

Emmet Gowin
29 May–1 September 2013

Avenida General Perón, 40 
28020 Madrid 
Hours: Monday 2–9pm,
Tuesday–Saturday 10am–9pm,
Sundays and holidays noon–8pm
Free admission

T 34 91 5811628 

Twitter: #expo_gowin

Curator: Carlos Gollonet
Production: FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE Instituto de Cultura, Madrid

The work of Emmet Gowin is profoundly linked to his upbringing and life story. Gowin was born seventy-one years ago in Danville, Virginia, to a religious family that adhered to two different theological viewpoints. Rather than the demanding, authoritarian vision of his father, a Methodist preacher, Emmet identified from a young age with the Quaker concept of the divine that he encountered in his mother’s loving, gentle and compassionate nature.

In 1955 the family moved to Chincoteague Island, where, in his free time from high school, Gowin began to develop a spontaneous interest in drawing inspired by the beauty of the natural world around him.

In 1961 he embarked on a degree in Graphic Arts at Richmond Professional Institute. After just a few months he opted for photography as the medium that best allowed him to use the elements of chance and the unexpected, with the boundless creative possibilities that this implied.

Gowin’s early photographic influences were derived from books and catalogues on the work of major photographers such as Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugène Atget, and Walker Evans. Just two years after he started using a 35mm Leica, Gowin confronted the necessity of finding his own style. He would receive particular help in this quest from Harry Callahan, director of the program that Gowin opted enroll in at Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence.

Gowin’s earliest photographic portfolios, which date from 1965, before he entered Rhode Island School of Design and a year after his marriage to Edith Morris, featured technically simple and notably varied images centered on everyday subjects: children, teenagers, and adults engaged in normal activities; landscapes; and portraits of his wife.

Edith had grown up in Danville, but in a larger and more cohesive family, both in a physical and emotional sense. Edith’s family would play a decisive role in Gowin’s work, particularly between the summer of 1965 and the spring of 1967. During this period, Gowin swapped his 35mm camera for a 4 x 5 inch view camera. The result was a different viewpoint, a more careful vision of the object, and a more patient, receptive approach to it.

In 1967 Gowin was offered a teaching position at The Dayton Art Institute. He and Edith moved to Ohio just before the birth of their first son, Elijah. The four years they spent in Dayton allowed Gowin’s work to evolve in an intuitive, introspective manner and to achieve the radical simplification and reduction that led to his direct focus on Edith, who became the key motif of most of his new work. The images of this period reveal a fully evolved and unique artistic vision based upon the communication between two persons who profoundly love and respect each other.

In the early 1970s a chance event led Gowin to use the lens of a 4 x 5 inch camera in an 8 x 10 inch one. The result was a group of circular images that suggested a new viewpoint and conveyed a sense of entering into a forbidden place, into a secret, mysterious reality. These photographs included a new and important motif: the artist’s second son Isaac, both in the form of the pregnant Edith and after his birth.

Gowin would subsequently return to focus his attention on nature and the landscape as he became interested in the consequences of man’s actions on them. He traveled to Europe and Asia where he produced various series that once again used a traditional rectangular format. Soon after, his desire to document the landscape led him to pursue a new direction: that of aerial photographs.

Within this new approach, starting in 1980, Gowin focused on the devastating consequences of the eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano, before moving on to landscapes destroyed by human action in the American Midwest and West, as well as in countries such as the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia). The result was a complete catalogue of man’s exploitation of the Earth which included, among other subjects, intensive irrigation systems in areas with little water, deserts resembling a lunar landscape due to nuclear testing, opencast coal mines, and electricity plants.

In recent years Gowin’s work has reflected his fascination for insects. He has traveled repeatedly to Latin America, where he has tirelessly photographed thousands of nocturnal butterflies. While engaged in this process he came across a silhouette of Edith and decided to produce a series of new portraits of his wife.

In 2012, an invitation from FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE to travel to Spain allowed the artist to focus his lens on Andalusia. Some of the aerial photographs he took are to be seen for the first time in this exhibition. 

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KBr Fundación MAPFRE Photography Center
May 25, 2013

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