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Emmet Gowin

Text by Emmet Gowin, from Emmet Gowin: Photographs

Through my marriage to Edith Morris, in 1964, 1 entered into a family freshly different from my own. I admired their simplicity and generosity, and thought of the pictures I made as agreements. I wanted to pay attention to the body and personality that had agreed out of love to reveal itself. My attention was a natural duty which could honor that love.

Through the lives of new relatives, my more whole family, I returned to the mood that finds solemnity in daily life. As a child, one has the time for such pastimes as sunlight on water or the weave of the porch screen and the openings and closings of those doors. I wish never to outgrow that leisure.

In dedication I wish to list the members of that family: Edith, Elijah, and Isaac, my wife and sons; Nancy, Dwayne, and Reva, our niece and nephew who live with their grandmother, Edith's mother; Rennie Booher, Raymond Booher, and Willie Cooper, Edith's grandmother and two uncles, all three dead now and committed to mystery; Maggie and Gertrude, both lifelong weavers in the cotton mill and much loved aunts; Verlie and Ralph, mother and son; Ruth, one of Edith's three sisters; David and Helen, husband and wife, and Brian and John David, their two sons; William and Mae, husband and wife, and Richie and Amy, their children; Willie Raye and Donna Joe, cousin and second cousin; and finally my own mother and father, Grace and Emmet, whose name I bear.

The photographs of Eugene Atget, Bill Brandt, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Alfred Stieglitz, and especially Harry Callahan and Frederick Sommer have influenced me. I accept and embrace this tradition of photography, yet always I want to make my own pictures and follow my intuition.

My pictures are made as a part of everyday life and are not the result of any project or assignment. Most of the pictures here were made with a camera on a tripod. In this situation, both the sitter and photographer become part of the picture. Sometimes my photographs resemble home snapshots, which are among the richest resources of images I know. But I always want to make a picture that is more than a family record. I feel that the clearest pictures were at first strange to me; yet whatever picture an artist makes, it is in part a picture of himself - a matter of identity.

As I worked, I soon realized that I was not able to foresee the best pictures and often could not identify the better negative until much later. This meant that in my future efforts there would be an element dedicated to what can't be foreseen - to risk and to chance. (It turns out that "the unknown is more friendly than we think"; as D. H. Lawrence said, "Even an artist knows that his work was never in his mind, he could never have thought it before it happened" Rarely am I tempted to speak of originality.) I far prefer the formulation "I am the origin of this work" That simply means that I am responsible for it - that I accept the consequences.

About the circular pictures: I had quite forgotten that it was the nature of the lens to form a circle and in 1967 my only lens was a short Angulon intended for a small camera. I'd been given an old Eastman View 8 x 10 and brought the two together out of impatience and curiosity. After a while, I recognized the wonderful exaggeration near the edge. I began to use the camera with this lens, but for several years I would trim these prints so that the circle was disguised. Eventually I realized that such a lens contributed to a particular description of space and that the circle itself was already a powerful form.

Accepting the entire circle, what the camera had made, was important to me. It involved a recognition of the inherent nature of things. I had set out to describe the world within my domain, to live a quality with things. Enrichment, I saw, involves a willingness to accept a changing vision of the nature of things which is to say, reality. Often I had thought that things teach me what to do, Now I would prefer to say: As things teach us what we already are, we gain a vision of the world.


 


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