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Guggenheim Fellow Elijah Gowin Photographs Emotional Landscapes

 Elijah Gowin says that his southern experiences inspired his early photographs.  But the disastrous events of recent years – earthquakes, tsunamis, Katrina – provoked Gowin to tell a larger story, one he describes as “lack of control of our landscapes. 

“I looked beyond my own horizon,” Gowin offers.  The resulting images of baptism, falling figures and lonely visages stir up feelings of insecurity and fragility.  At the same time, the people in his pictures have a haunting power and solidity. 

Now Gowin’s style and techniques have earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship.  Gowin is one of 190 scholars, composers, artists and scientists chosen from 2,600 applicants. An assistant professor of Art and Art History, Gowin has been on the UMKC faculty since 2002.

Gowin began the application process with a project concept, a history of his prior work and pieces from a May 2007 New York show.  The photographs represented his artistic tools, resources and experience; and he believed they were works he could expand and examine in greater depth. 

“Guggenheim may be the only foundation that asks for real objects instead of a digital portfolio,” says Gowin.  “I think having the actual photos in hand allows the selection team to relate to the work they are evaluating.”

Gowin’s series, “Of Falling and Floating,” combines photographic processes from the 19th century with the newest digital tools.  Gowin says that it is not the technology that is remarkable, but his way of assembling everything.  Amateur photos of people on trampolines are repositioned so that the figures appear to be falling from the sky into an inhospitable landscape. 

The Guggenheim Fellowship will allow Gowin to explore this theme by photographing the cliff divers in Mexico.  He says the divers test their mortality and test themselves, but with some assurance that they will survive and go back to their safe lives.

Gowin’s works have been exhibited in Japan, China, Holland and Spain and are exhibited in collections throughout the United States, but he praises local institutions for the early support that got him noticed. 

“I was pushed to take a risk,” Gowin says, “by the Charlotte Street Foundation.  They sponsored juried shows with critics and curators from outside Kansas City, and then they gave me a grant.” 

Karen Vorst, Dean, Arts and Science, refers to Gowin as a terrific young artist. 

“His Guggenheim Fellowship is evidence of his extraordinary talent, and brings distinction to him as a productive scholar,” Vorst said.

 

 

 

 
From Gowin's series
"Of Falling andFloating"