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Legendary Photographer Emmet Gowin Celebrated in New Exhibition
Sam Fentress, Emmet Gowin, ca. 1982. Gelatin silver print, 20.3 x 25.4 cm. From the collection of Emmet Gowin (Photo: Bruce M. White).

PRINCETON, NJ.- After thirty-six years of teaching at Princeton University, photographer Emmet Gowin retires at the end of 2009. To mark the occasion, to honor Gowin’s generosity as a teacher and perpetual student, and to celebrate his artistic legacy, the Princeton University Art Museum will present "Emmet Gowin: A Collective Portrait," on view October 24, 2009, through February 21, 2010.

The exhibition features nearly fifty-five works including photographs by Gowin’s principal mentors, Harry Callahan and Frederick Sommer; highlights from Gowin’s multifaceted body of work; and photographs by twenty of his students, ranging in graduation year from 1976 to 2008. Since engaging with photography at Gowin’s side, the students have gone on to pursue paths as diverse as anthropology, social activism, education, publishing, the fine arts, filmmaking, and design, but all of them locate the roots of their inspiration in Gowin’s depthless faith in the power of photography as a medium, a discipline, and a way of life.

“I can think of nothing more fitting for Princeton than celebrating Emmet’s legacy as teacher and artist,” said Museum director James Steward. “In both modes, he has fundamentally helped to shape how we look at the world, influencing generations of students who carry on this tradition of close-looking, documenting, and experimenting.”

As the exhibition reveals, Gowin has taught a diverse array of major figures at work in photography today. Andrew Moore (Class of 1979), a widely published photographer of cities and architecture, is represented by an outtake from his new series on the decline and transformation of Detroit. Landscapist Laura McPhee (Class of 1980) contributes a study of an enormous banyan tree sprouting from the roof of a temple in India. David Maisel (Class of 1984) has donated a triptych portraying sealed copper cans containing the ashes of inhabitants of an asylum; over the years, each canister has developed colorful chemical blooms that hint at the complexity of the human histories it contains. Fazal Sheikh (Class of 1988), a Macarthur Prize-winning portraitist of subjects in troubled regions of Africa, Afghanistan, and India, is represented by a portrait he made in Kenya while still a student in Gowin’s class.

By Gowin’s reckoning, his own creative maturation started in the late 1960s, just a few years before he was hired at Princeton. The key, for him, lay in photographing what was nearest to him in proximity, scale, and emotional resonance: his wife, Edith, their sons Elijah and Isaac, and Edith’s extended family in Danville, Virginia. His scope of concern widened to embrace landscape in the 1970s, and during the next decade, with the adoption of an aerial viewpoint, Gowin bore witness to the earth’s large-scale alteration by the forces of modern history. Recently he has recalibrated his attention to still another scale, creating minute color studies of the moths of Central and South America.

Born in Danville, Virginia, in 1941, Emmet Gowin has taught in the Visual Arts Program at Princeton since 1973. He received an MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1967. While at RISD, he studied under Harry Callahan, one of his principal mentors and greatest influences. Gowin is a recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1974); two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1977 and 1979); a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for 1993–94; the 1983 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from the State of Pennsylvania; the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University in 1997; and the Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities in 2006.

Gowin’s work is represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York. His work has been widely exhibited in the United States and abroad, including solo shows and retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; the Espace Photographique, Paris; the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge; and the Princeton University Art Museum, where a solo exhibition was previously mounted in 1998. Gowin’s photographs are held in museum collections worldwide.

Princeton University Art Museum | Emmet Gowin | A Collective Portrait | Harry Callahan | Frederick Sommer |

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