Monday, January 01, 2007

The Edith series

I frequently have students in my basic photography classes whose first photographs of people are of girlfriends, wives, boyfriends and husbands. These photographs are usually more sentimental than intellectual, and the students quickly stop creating them as they do more photography. This is unfortunate, since there is tremendous potential in this type of photography.

For example, when Emmet Gowin was a graduate student at RISD studying with Harry Callahan, he began a series of portraits of his wife Edith.

He was inspired by Callahan's series of photographs of his wife Eleanor.

Both series cover a range of styles from the basic snapshot to sophisticated experiments that explore new and often complex ways of seeing and printing. The Gowin series may be a large body of work that covers a very long period of time. In Emmett Gowin Photographs (1976) there are about 24 photographs of Edith either individually or as part of a pair or group of people. These are dated from 1966 to 1974. In Emmett Gowin Photographs 1990 some of these reappear as well as 4 new images dated from 1980 to 1986. A 1996 photograph of Edith appears at

In 2001 Pace/MacGill Gallery exhibited at least one photograph of Edith dated 1998.

Current photographs in the series are too indirect to clearly tell whether they were shot recently or not. The dates of the prints clearly indicate they were recently printed.

This type of photography does not begin with Callahan and end with Gowin. This also occurs with Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Weston and Charis Weston, Lee Friedlander and Maria Friedlander and Nicholas Nixon and Bebe Nixon.

When will we see a series of photographs of all of the years spent with a spouse as a complex art project such as this? Will Gowin be the first to give us such a series?

all rights reserved © 2007 Paul Light


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