PG NewsPG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions

Headlines by E-mail

Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health & Science Magazine Forum

Weekend Art Preview: An unseen world Elijah Gowin's photography taps into the supernatural

Friday, March 10, 2000

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

To walk among Elijah Gowin's evocative, black and white photographs is to be transported to another place -- one that you're not likely to have visited before. It's as though you've turned off the Interstate to look for lunch in some small Southern town, and then been drawn by an irresistible siren's call past the main street and into a world that's oblivious to mass culture's standardization.

    >center>Art Review
'Fellowship 2000'

WHERE: 1015 E. Carson St., South Side.

WHEN: Tomorrow through May 6. Tomorrow Gowin will conduct portfolio critiques, by reservation, $50 for a half-hour session. A portfolio organizing workshop, conducted by John Fobes and Kaoru Tohara, will be held April 1; $25, limited to eight participants. On April 27, honorable mention photographers Corey LeChat and Zsuzsi Matolcsy will lead a discussion, "A Dual Response to New Photography;" $5, $3 members.

HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m., Tues.-Sat.

INFORMATION: 412-431-1810


Only after you've spent some time there, do you realize that you're in an usually unseen world, given visual articulation by an artist who, though he was born in 1967 in Dayton, Ohio, was nourished by the long, thick roots anchored in the Kentucky home of his father, eminent photographer Emmet Gowin, who was born in Danville, Va., in 1941.

Gowin was selected as the winner of "Fellowship 2000" -- an award of a solo exhibition at Silver Eye Center for Photography and $2,000 -- from 94 entrants by juror Jeffrey Hoone, director of Light Work, a Syracuse imaging and photography center. Gowin, who studied in North Carolina and New Mexico, is widely published and teaches at St. Mary's College in Maryland.

"Hymnal of Dreams" is the appropriately poetic title for 19 works that freeze the generally unnoticed exotic pauses in the bland continuity of daily life. His is a place that dissolves quickly beyond the back porch, from the everyday to a site with magical potential, where a casually cast toy becomes an amulet, or an abandoned hobby horse entangled in weeds conjures memories. It is where the world of child's play and powerful ritual intercede, where specious, authentic and imaginative congeal to form a lyrical whole that transcends them all.

Gowin's images have the sensitivity -- eccentric, reverential of the past, somewhat gothic with a dash of magic realism -- of Southern writers like Faulkner, Capote or Harper Lee, and they are emotively powerful. Much of this comes from his ability to tap in to the communally supernatural, and the multiplicity that that implies, rather than to similarly inclined, but more narcissistically driven, surrealistic explorations.

Gowin is acutely tuned to ritualistic cultural symbol, and plays in and out of that, as in "Bottle Tree at Night," where something potent has happened in the dark near this folk structure, said to have African roots, that has to do with the spirit world. Some photographs appear to have been taken in visionary artist Howard Finster's Paradise Garden.

Sometimes he marks spots that have been forever changed by an earlier presence, as in "Great-Grandmother's Bed." "Bird Woman," a sharp, elderly figure standing in the center of an otherwise blurred image, has a more immediate, and enigmatic, presence.

Rather than stay with the formulaically safe, Gowin is often exploratory. In one departure, "Toy Car," he plays with scale within a smartly composed arrangement of circles. Similarly, "Journey's End," in which an African-American stands in a slightly altered swamp, calf-deep in water, with his back to the camera and looking into an unpromising and unarticulated distance, could be read as a political commentary on the treatment of a specific ethnic group or as a universally existential statement.

Overall, Gowin presents a generous sharing of a secret space that he seems privileged to move in and out of as he continues to give form to this unfamiliar yet entrancing territory. The influence, that he cites, of Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1926-1972), who was a Lexington, Ky., optician and businessman who photographed on weekends, and of his father, are evident, though not restraining, in his body of work.

Hoone also selected 10 artists to receive honorable mention, and each of them is represented by one photograph. The wide range of style, technique and subject matter exhibited gives an idea of the breadth of creative approaches photographers are pursuing today.

Especially notable are Philadelphian Rita Bernstein's "Fairmount Park," which exudes warmth and humanity in a scene of children brushing their mother's hair; "Cluj to Timisoara," by Sylvia de Swaan, of Utica, N.Y., wherein a man's hand holding a photograph of a woman against the backdrop of a rain-spattered train window suggests a mysterious narrative; and Hamden, Conn., artist Keith Johnson's kicky, tropi-colored, full-of-attitude "Hard Conch."

Recent remodeling has created a Members' Gallery for informal monthly exhibitions by two or more Silver Eye members. Currently showing are Valentino Buttignol, Jack McKenzie and Norman Schumm, who are also all members of the photographic section of the Academy of Science and Art of Pittsburgh, a more than century-old organization based in Mt. Lebanon that's featured in the March 2 issue of Mt. Lebanon magazine.

Stylistically, this work, in contrast to that in the honorable mention gallery, is fairly straightforward, but skill and dedication are evident. Schumm's landscapes, taken with infrared film and a 4 x 5 view camera, include memorably composed scenes such as "Gathering Storm," where the barn and hills defer to the atmosphere, and the "Crystal River Mine" that is at once as perilous and as secure as the eroding rock that it perches on.

McKenzie makes colored, digitally enhanced photographs of landscape and patterns, concerns that come together especially well in the fine, near-monochromatic "Bodie, CA." In black and white studies of flora -- an approach that has long been a favorite of photographers-- Buttignol experiments with light and contrast to good effect.

bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy