For thousands of years people have used water to physically and spiritually cleanse their bodies as well as to nourish the lands they live on. Our bodies and the land we inhabit often interconnect, each one a map of the other. In my series Watering I have chosen the backdrop of contemporary Christian baptism to reflect upon the broader human condition at the turn of the 21st century. The act of baptism with water symbolizes the death of a person’s past life, a realization the tan old way of life is flawed and a new life needed. While this need to wipe the slate clean and begin anew has long been a human desire, recent global changes have fostered a more emphatic quest for restitution and renewal. Although the digital revolution has empowered individuals by connecting them to the larger world, technology has at the same time made the individual more replaceable, replicatable, and anxious about the future.
In Of Falling & Floating subjects float precariously in water and fall into trees. Some look outward for rescue and others draw inward, calmly waiting for impact. Searching for balance and grace in a time of instability and shifting paradigms, I present these images as an expression of our contemporary faith and doubt.
These photographic scenes, taking place in the aqueous landscapes of rivers, lakes and oceans, present the ritual of immersion baptism wherein a multiplicity of human dramas is played out. The constructed images survey a range of emotions on the faces of the reborn, from joy, serenity, and gentile compassion to pain, insecurity, and aggression. Stripped of their belongings, these figures are immersed in a world that is both nourishing and potentially malevolent. We recognize in such contradictions the complexity and beauty of human experience, an experience that is both global and personal in its reach.
These images are created using a process that combines painstaking hand-crafted techniques with the latest digital imagery technology. I collect amateur photographs through the internet & collages them in multiple layers before printing small paper negatives which are cut by hand & then scanned, causing the paper fibers to become a part of the final distressed image. The photographs appear to be both old and new, confusing to the eye and yet hauntingly familiar.
Elijah Gowin was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1967. He received an MFA in photography from the University of New Mexico in 1996 and is currently on the faculty at the University of Missouri in Kansas City where he directs the photographic studies program. He has exhibited internationally, including solo shows at the Robert Mann Gallery which represents his work, the Houston Center for Photography, Light Factory, Vermont Center for Photography, among others. Selected group exhibitions include the Corcoran Museum of Art, Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery, Pace/MacGill Gallery and the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University. Gowin has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 2008.