March 2 – April 22, 2001

The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College reopened on March 2, 2001 with a retrospective of noted landscape photographer Emmet Gowin that was on view through April 22. Since the mid-1960s, Emmet Gowin has concentrated on two separate but related subjects: physical changes to the human form and human alteration to the earth’s topography. His luminous black and white photographs, whether of intimate family encounters or infinite aerial vistas of the earth—celebrate the mysteries of the natural world, of human existence and of creation.

Inspired by such diverse photographers as Robert Frank, Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer and Walker Evans, Gowin approaches his subjects with a reverence for their actuality and a concern that the fixed set of relationships reflect both its parts and our own feelings. Edith Gowin has long served as the primary model and muse for her husband's work, and he considers his images of her among his most important work. The portraits of her, spanning some 30 years, resonate with joy, humor and love born of emotional and physical intimacy as well as collaboration. Imbued with playfulness, honesty and dignity, these portraits detail the nuances of the aging process and the deepening strength of their marital and intellectual relationship.

Gowin's landscape work is an outgrowth of his domestic concerns. To him, landscapes "are our setting, our world, and our experience of a future we will not live to see. They carry our sentiments towards a future that only our children's children will be able to verify." Gowin's aerial photographs of the American West, dating from the mid-'80s through the '90s, convey the abstract beauty of natural land forms marked by the disquieting scars of human activity. A 1980 project documenting the eruption of Mount Saint Helens from the air prompted Gowin to shift his attention from natural cataclysms to manmade changes. He first saw the nuclear landscape flying over the abandoned city of Old Hanford on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, where the first reactors had been built to make plutonium for the atomic bomb. Since then, he has produced aerial photographs of the "Nuclear Heartland" in Arizona and Nevada.

Viewed from above, irrigation systems, nuclear test sites and waste dumps appear as elegant lines and textures in these subtly toned prints. The inherent duality in these images relates to Gowin’s philosophy of photography and vision: "Photography is such an important instrument in the education of our feelings and perception because of its duality. Photography represents the world we know, and suggests a world beyond what we can see. Creativity is the gap between perception and knowledge."


March 2, 2001, 4:30 p.m.
Artist's Lecture - Stirn Auditorium