Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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Picture by Elijah Gowin

Emmet Gowin
Born in Danville, VA, in 1941
Resides in Newtown, PA

Emmet Gowin was born in Danville, Virginia, a place that inspired his first photographs. He attended the Virginia Commonwealth University for his BFA and then continued on to Rhode Island school of design for his MFA. While attending RISD, Gowin met the photographer Henry Callahan, who became one of his long time mentors. Gowin began his career by photographing his wife and family, and continued to do so until the eruption of Mt. St Helens in 1980. As Gowin was not able to photograph this natural disaster from the ground, he received permission to fly over it and from that moment, he became fascinated with aerial photographs. He once stated that he likes the view of “what the Gods see.”

Gowin has photographed within the United States and abroad in the Czech Republic, the Middle East, Japan, Mexico, and Ireland. His work has been displayed throughout the United States and abroad, including venues such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Espace Photographique de Paris. In 2002, the Art Gallery at Yale University put together a traveling exhibition that was seen in eight different places. Gowin has also received many distinguished awards for his photography, most notably, the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Art Fellowships. Gowin’s work is available in several books, including Emmet Gowin: Photographs (1976), Emmet Gowin Photographs (1966-1983), and the very famous Changing the Earth: Aerial Photographs (2002).

Pictures in Gallery


Works Description

The Yale University Art Gallery, in association with the Corcoran Gallery of Art, published the book Emmet Gowin: Changing the Earth. It was issued in 2002 in conjunction with the first major touring exhibition of Gowin’s photographs in over ten years. The book is composed of 92 images dating back to 1986. The photographs are rich hand-toned black and white images printed on large paper for easy viewing. At first glimpse, the fascinating images are visually astonishing. Only with closer inspection is their dangerous reality discovered. Gowin notes "When I look at the American landscape, I…feel with great sadness that we did this to ourselves." These astounding yet deeply shocking images were taken in various states throughout the mid-west, such as Nevada, and other areas such as Czechoslovakia, Japan, and Kuwait. Changing the Earth also contains three very informative essays including: “The Earth Stares Back” by renowned environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams; “Above the Fruited Plain,” by Jock Reynolds, which discusses the influences that older photographers have had on his work and the artist’s contribution to our knowledge of the earth; and “Keys Are Stronger Than the Doors they Open,” which is an interview by Philip Brookman, who is the senior curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and a well-known expert on contemporary photography.

Selected Bibliography

“Emmet Gowin: Changing the Earth” The Henry Art Gallery 2004. Weblink.

Gowin, Emmet. Photographs. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art; Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1990.

Reynolds, Jock. Emmet Gowin: Changing the Earth, Aerial Photographs. New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, in assoc. with The Corcoran Gallery of Art and Yale University Press, 2002.

"Pace/MacGill Gallery." Weblink.