One of the most influential photographers of his generation, Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) confronted his own influences in his first major photography project, Concerning America and Alfred Stieglitz, and Myself on display here. Produced as his undergraduate senior thesis at the Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University), Gowin borrowed part of the title from a book about the work of Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946), America and Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait (1934). Stieglitz was the self-appointed leader of the first cohesive fine art photography movement at the turn of the century, and promoted the medium with almost religious conviction through a series of publications and in his gallery “291” in New York City. Through the juxtaposition of Gowin’s own photographs with text from the book about Stieglitz’s work that addressed his belief in the photograph as a metaphor for lived experience, the young photographer ambitiously entered into discussions about photographic lineage, American identity, and the role of photography as a form of personal expression.
In fourteen pictures, many made in his home state of Virginia, Gowin weaves a solemn, soulful, but open ended address about human experience that reveals the influence of Stieglitz, as well as Robert Frank (American, b. 1924). These early images earnestly disclose his origins as an intuitive student of photographic history while also hinting at the strong individual identity that his later work would assume. Perhaps most importantly, they demonstrate that, like Stieglitz, Gowin possessed a strong conviction in photography as a revelatory, if indefinite, medium.
The museum’s rare, unbound copy from the permanent collection is presented here along with a bound version loaned from the collection of Ron Todd. The plates are arranged in the order of the bound volume, inviting you to consider the narrative implied by Gowin’s original sequence of pictures.
Throughout the portfolio, on the reverse side of several pages, Gowin included excerpts from the 1934 publication about the work of Alfred Stieglitz: America and Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait. A transcript of the full text is accessible here.
Concerning America and Alfred Stieglitz, and Myself (1)
Concerning America and Alfred Stieglitz, and Myself (2)
Route 360, Virginia
Gelatin Silver Print
11 x 14