Emmet Gowin, a world of intimate perceptions
Edith. Chincoteague, Virginia, 1967
© Emmet Gowin, courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
© Fundación MAPFRE Collections
We curators are very fortunate people. Obviously there are good and bad aspects, as there are in any job, but we are lucky enough to work hand-in hand, sometimes for years in the preparation of a new project, with the artists we most admire; those who seemed unattainable to us and who suddenly, or after a while, become friends for life. This is what happens when you deepen your knowledge of each artist’s work: you end up in a highly rewarding personal relationship with them in every aspect. That’s what happened to me with Emmet Gowin (Danville, Virginia, 1941) when we organized his exhibition at Fundación MAPFRE in 2013.
Gowin is an approachable artist and a good conversationalist who has won the respect of everyone who knows him as a creator and as a teacher. One word perfectly sums up his persona: bonhomie; in other words, affable, straightforward, kind and decent in terms of both his character and his conduct. Through his statements and interviews, he explains with the ease and clarity of a philosopher the most subtle and complex aspects of art and life. And through them we learn about his artistic and literary preferences, the why and the how he built his world with the help of photography. In all these years he has developed a poetic voice that resembles no-one else’s; without trying to attract attention, with a rather solitary enthusiasm, without bending to the pressure of the artistic movements of the time, yet bound to reality, to life. That is why when Gowin’s work grabs us it is like good poetry: we never tire of it, we always enjoy going back to it again and again for its ability to explain and transmit sensations, the physical experience of emotions. You might say that Gowin’s photographs are like poems that contain traces of his most private thoughts. “It is not an object that seeks to make thought ‘visible’ again, to visibly translate it, but rather about that which cannot be thought about by thinking, and cannot be viewed with vision,” explained Régis Durand.
One of my favorite photographs by Gowin is this portrait of Edith, his wife: from the back, with her hair gathered up and her head leaning slightly to one side, showing her naked neck. Edith, the object of infinite portraits and the leitmotiv not only of his work but also of his life. Let’s pause for a moment at this transparent photograph, which has something prophetic about it, revealing Gowin’s world; a world founded on intimate perceptions that emerge in every image. This photographic moment is a biographical moment, like all his work, related to his whole life; and like his life it springs from the depths of his conscience and passes through Edith’s to see through her eyes, melding with her in a single soul. It is fascinating how he manages to put us in his position, in Edith’s position, whose gaze is lost in this indistinct landscape, and turns inwards towards that single and fleeting instant of communion that passes as briefly as a breeze and makes the subject of the photograph become invisible, fading away. “For me, pictures provide a means of holding, intensely, a moment of communication between one human and another,” wrote Gowin in 1967.
Carlos Gollonet, Head Curator of Photography, Fundación MAPFRE.