At his core, Elijah Gowin seems quite comfortable flouting convention.  His approach to photography wholly embraces the acceptance of failure.  It is this belief that seems to characterize not only his own work, but also influences his teaching style at the University of Missouri - Kansas City, where Gowin is the Chair of the Art and Art History Department.  He talks about the numerous rules of photography with a certain amount of contempt, while explaining that his career is about going against the grain.

 

As a photographer, he works within both analog and digital mediums and seamlessly integrates the two to create distinctive images.  This dichotomy between old and new is evident even as he discusses his favorite cameras.  Elijah used a Linhof 4x5 early in career because of the quality of the landscape photos -- a key subject of much of his work.  He loves the setup and formality of the experience.  But for family photos, the SX70 Polaroid is his camera of choice.  His face lights up as he describes the faded blue colors and streaks of old Polaroid photos. 

  

These are qualities he sought to replicate in photos that can be found in one of his early books, Of Falling and Floating, which he published shortly after his term as a Guggenheim Fellow in 2008.  Gowin digitally manipulates photos to create breathtaking landscapes which are prevalent throughout this work. In the section entitled Baptism, he chose photos from amateur photographers and put them through a digital scanner to create streaked images reminiscent of vintage movie stills.  These digital paintings showcase his unique view of nature and religious rituals.

 

Most of the photographer’s visual storytelling seems to be heavily inspired by his love of fictional short stories. This becomes especially apparent when asked who he would invite to a dinner party.  His guest list includes notable and provocative writers such as Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty.  Both women have a reputation for realism and a rebellious nature akin to Gowin’s own.  Rounding out the guest list is Howard Finster, a Baptist minister, who became a nationally recognized folk artist.  Like his guests, Gowin’s work is a colorful tapestry of themes such as family life, the outdoors and religion which he seems to revisit often.   

  

 

Gowin’s latest publication, A Shared Elegy, was created with a longtime friend, Osamu Nakagawa.  It is a project that took several years to complete.  The book includes photographs not only from Gowin and Nakagawa, but from Gowin’s father, Emmett Gowin, another Guggenheim Fellow and Nakagama’s uncle, Takayuki Ogawa, a photographer who passed away in 2008. The photographic pairings in the book highlight the similar life experiences of the photographers that grew up in different worlds.  It chronicles intimate moments in each of their lives, from the joy of birth and early childhood through the sadness of loss.  The work of these photographers take us through the life, love and loss of three generations of two extraordinary families causing us to reflect on our own stories.  


 

The mostly black and white tome arrives just in time for the holidays.  An exhibition of the photos recently concluded at the Grunwald Gallery at the University of Indiana.  The published work is available from Indiana University Press and Amazon.com.  Check out more of Elijah’s work at elijahgowin.com.


Dodge and Burn would like to thank Elijah Gowin for allowing us to share his work with you.