Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Birth of a Photographer, Emmet Gowin

Thesis are the culmination of years of education, and often hold the key to a future career. Through the portfolio presented for his undergraduate senior thesis at the Richmond Professional Institute (Virginia Commonwealth University) in 1965, Emmet Gowin provides clues to his early influences and sources of inspiration. The display of a rare unbound version belonging to the New Orleans Museum of Art's permanent collection is the occasion to discover Concerning America and Alfred Stieglitz, and Myself, a compilation of texts chosen from the book written about Stieglitz, America and Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait, published in 1934, and fourteen photographs made by Gowin when he lived in Virginia.
The black and white photographs are displayed in glass cases along the walls of a narrow passage between Joseph Cornell's works and the Modern and Contemporary Art gallery on the second floor of the museum. The text is available on printed copies or through a smartphone app, found next to Gower's drawing for the publication's cover. The scenes caught on camera in 1963 and 1964 describe people in their surroundings, using trees, rows of benches, buildings, … as props to frame the moment. Technically flawless in their compositions, the photographs are telling stories, suggesting sometimes action, sometimes reflection.
Reading the text is the next step. The selected writings imply the direct influence of the photographer/gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz and give an insight into Gowin's aspirations which are to meet the goals set by Stieglitz, among them: "The translation of experience through photography, the storing up of energy, feeling, memory, impulse, will, ..." or " fixing the intricate Idea through the momentary forms which actually reveal it".
A second look at the photographs underlines the influence of Alfred Stieglitz who introduced European art to America and promoted the idea of photography as art and Robert Frank, in particular his photographs with the text from Jack Kerouac published in the book The Americans, in 1958. The subject, discovery of the soul of America through its people, the construction of the images with vertical and horizontal lines, the setting of the human figures, all relate to the famous photographers' works.    

The small exhibition which at first appears to have been set up to fill an anonymous space, deserves attention and time. Not only does it provide a piece of the history of photography , it also represents the birth of a photographer and an artist. 

photographs from  the exhibition by the author

Danville, Virginia, 1963
Shilo Baptist Church, Shilo, N.C., 1963
Route 360, Virginia, 1964

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