David Plowden – Vanishing Point?

I’ve written before – elsewhere – about David Plowden. His ‘Small Town America‘, published in 1994 by Harry Abrams in NY (ISBN 0810938421) remains one of my favourite records of America – just one among around 20 of his books, and he was among the list of around 250 ‘Notable Photographers‘ I first put on-line around 2000.

He is also one of the photographers whose work is included on David Sapir’s Fixing Shadows, one of the earliest web sites to feature fine collections of ‘straight photography‘ (and on which I was proud to be included as the first UK photographer on the site.)

So it was a little surprising to read on The Online Photographer a review of his retrospective publication ‘Vanishing Point‘ starting “David Plowden may be the best photographer you never heard of.” Surely there can be few with a serious interest in photography who didn’t visit the old ‘About Photography‘ or ‘Fixing Shadows‘ – I ask tongue in cheek, although back in 2000, there really were not too many other serious games on the block.

But of course there are people with a serious interest in photography – even some photographers – who were hardly out of nappies in those primitive days of the web, and now we are overwhelmed with material. Then I had problems finding sites worth writing about because there was so little available; now I have problems finding sites worth writing about because there is so much.

Back to David Plowden, a fine and unassuming gentleman who I met a few years back, and a great photographer. Reviewer Geoffrey Wittig puts it well: “Walker Evans without the condescension.” His work is clear, precise statements, beautifully seen and presented. As the review also says, it is perhaps low on irony, but it is full of a kind of love and reverence for the subject.

Plowden’s lack of visibility in some circles largely resulted from a difference of opinion between him and curator John Szarkowski, and he never made it to the Czar’s pantheon. There seems to me to be a certain irony here, in that some of Szarkowski’s own photography has a very similar character; perhaps their failure to connect was some kind of turf war on the curator’s part.

Plowden of course kept on at the photography for some 50 years, and at 75 has a show – as Arthur Gross points out in a comment to the review (do read it) – at the Catherine Edelmann Gallery in Chicago (until Dec 29, 2007.) You can also find his work at the Lawrence Miller Gallery, but the definitive site is his own David Plowden website.

Vanishing Point (ISBN-10: 0393062546) is an expensively produced book and one that needs a strong table to rest it on, with some 350 pages. Fortunately it is heavily discounted from suppliers such as Amazon and would be a very acceptable Christmas present for many photographers, including myself!

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