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Monday, 19 November 2007


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Thank you for this write-up, Geoff. David Plowden is one of my favorite photographers. His 5+ decades of work stand as a powerful, monumental testament to his keen eye and master skills.

Your comment about Plowden being similar to Walker Evans without the condescension may very well be accurate. I never met Evans but I can sure tell you that David is the very antithesis of condescension. Now in his 70's he is one spirited fellow positively brimming with stories. (Example: The train station shot was "stolen". While stretching his legs on a layover he asked the station master if he could take the shot and was refused. He sneaked it anyway, and may have gotten a better shot than if he had taken more care.)

In a photo world brimming with under-accomplished and brazenly over-valued self-promotors David Plowden is an odd duck. (In my opinion Gursky couldn't clean David's lenses, regardless of his 7-figure prints being auctioned to newly-minted Russian billionaires.) Plowden is a quiet national treasure.

Anyone who would really like to learn more about the spirit of photographic seeing and creativity should be lucky enough to spend a few hours with David Plowden. I guarantee that their lives would be changed.

Failing that, grab a copy of this book, or any of his many books, and just let yourself be drawn into his photographs for an hour or two. I guarantee you that you will end your session feeling like you've just taken a dreamy trip, just like you should after viewing any strong body of photographic work.

Thanks again, Geoff (and Mike).

I have been a David Plowden fan ever since I first encountered his work more than 30 years ago. Nothing heroic—more Steinbeck than Hemingway.
The nicest thing about it is that he's actually doing the work that I have always felt that I should have been doing, if I weren't too lazy and uninvolved.

He is a national treasure!

I've seen this book at Borders, but haven't bought it yet due to lack of funds. I'll get it eventually though to add to my collection of Plowden's books.

Interesting that you refer to him as he best photographer you've never heard of. That's a very true statement.

I had never heard of him either until my second year of art school when the professor asked me if I had ever heard of David Plowden. I told him no. He tells me that I should check out Plowden's work, which he felt was done in the same spirit as mine. The next week, the prof brings in his copy of Commonplace, which I believe was Plowden's first book. If it wasn't, it was one of the earliest; it was published in the '70s.

Plowden's work is different than mine; he's more interested in industry than I am, and he travels around the country while I work where happen to live at the moment. In any case, his work was an inspiration to me that definitely influenced the work I did after I first learned of him. I wasn't the only one who cared about HISTORY! Most photographers, as you noted, ignore the heartland, the ordinary America, in favor of impressive landscapes, gimmicky techniques, and of course, "mayhem and nudity." I grew up in the second largest city in Indiana, a place surrounded by cornfield country, and as I grew up I noticed a lot of the old farms disappearing; the land turned into shopping centers and housing additions. As a teenager I began documenting the disappearing history of Allen County, Indiana...the rural county that my hometown dominates. As I've moved around in search of work, love, and happiness, I began looking for the commonplace and forgotten in each place I lived and visited.

If you've never seen Plowden's work, get this book. It is an eye-opener and an inspiration. Plowden certainly influenced and inspired me.

David Plowden is not only a great photographer -- he is a historian and an engaging writer as well. If you like bridges, pick up a copy of Plowden's Bridges (there is a new edition as well as an older out-of-print edition). The photographs are stunning, but this is one photography book where the text is worth reading as well.

If you'd like to find out more about Plowden himself and his methods, pick up Brave Companions, by David McCullough. It is a collection of great short pieces, including South of Kankakee, A Day with David Plowden.

Both "Vanishing Point by David Plowden" and "Looking East: Portraits by Steve McCurry" provide interesting counterpoints to John Geesink's "Quote of the Day" comments, the post immediately preceeding this pair. Perhaps John Geesink's closing comment, "The better I know a place, the more subjects I see" would be better phrased, "The better I know a subject, the more photographs I see."


Thanks for turning me on to Plowden. My library has Bridges, The American Barn, A Handful of Dust, as well as Brave Companions, by David McCullough. I now have them on hold. I'm looking forward to a Plowden festival. I also recommended they order Vanishing Point. Be sure to check your libray.

Did you see the blown highlights in the Phoebe Snow shot? Keep tryin', dude.

*end sarcasm*

Some of my local librarians have been cursing my name lately (well, more than usual). All these damn photo books are hard on the back.

I've never met a librarian who wouldn't rather have the books used than sitting on the shelf. Keep on truckin'.

Mike J.

Okay, so my sarcastic highlight comment aside, thanks for this post. I haven't studied photography and I don't have many photographer friends to introduce me to photographers I hadn't heard of. Every new body of work I learn about is an amazing revelation. I first read Robert Frank's The Americans less than a year ago (sadly, this will get harder to do since the cheapest copy of that book I can find now is about $250). I was totally blown away. To address the comment about liking Frank and finding Plowden too gentle: humbug! When I was 12 my favorite photographers were Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz. Make sense of that. Perhaps when I'm older my tastes will shrink and ossify, but hopefully not.

I really like what I've seen of Plowden's work here. I'll check out this book whenever I can and hopefully see the show in Chicago.

David Plowden is one of my five favorite photographers, and has influenced my B&W work more than any other. I had the honor of meeting him twenty plus years ago.

For those in the Midwest, Catherine Edelman gallery in Chicago is currently running a show featuring David Plowden's photographs celebrating his new restrospective book and his 75th birthday.


Just when I got through telling me family no more photography books for me for Christmas...

David Plowden is one of my biggest influences. My photographic journey really began the day that I discovered his books in the public library over ten years ago.

Uh oh. There's a link to Amazon.com... Mike might make a few bucks...

I ordered the book. My wife asked me if I was doing my own Christmas shopping again. ;-)

"Walker Evans without the condescension"? What is that? Take a look at the portraits in "Let Us now Praise Famous Men," for example, and tell me that Evans condescended to the tenant farm families he documented with such dignity.

I too like David Plowden's work—his 1971 "Hand of Man on America" had a strong influence on me. But you can't compare him with Evans using a throw-away one-liner like that and expect knowledgeable readers to take you very seriously.

My problem with David Plowden has always been the poor quality of the cheap halftone reproductions in his books (something I've always blamed him a little for having "settled for").

Therefore I'm happy to see that the quality of the plates in this, as well as his previous book, are vastly improved; his images have always deserved so much better treatment than they have ever gotten in the many books he's published.

"Evans without the condescension. If you love Robert Frank, you’ll probably find Plowden too gentle and sympathetic."

Mr. Wittig has hit the nail on the head here -- perhaps I'm too much of a modernist, but as an Evans and Frank aficionado, I appreicate Plowden's work, but often find it a bit too sentimental. That may sound strange coming from a person who photographs abandoned places, and this makes me think I should give this retrospective work some reconsideration.



Thanks for the introduction to David Plowden. I was unfamiliar with the artist, (there are gaps in my photography education), though very intimate with almost all of his subjects.

A wonderful feel for both the rural, non-interstate land, but also the industrial.

As a side note, there are still some places off the big highways, little towns that missed the destruction of the 70's and Walmart of the 90's. Not a lot, changing, but still some. (I tend to back roads, and require compasses in my vehicles).


Thank You for this.

I am familiar with [O. Winston —Ed.] Link but not him, and this book will certainly be on my Christmas list!!!

Got the Plowden book, from Amazon, and what a surprise!
The book came in a slip cover, was autographed and included a signed print. I didn't expect that. It's a terrific book.

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