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About the Photographer
American, b. 1932
For 50 years, David Plowden has photographed rural America, the country's disappearing landscapes, and the vestiges of its industrial age. Capturing the beauty of his subjects—typically including steel mills, steam locomotives, bridges, skyscrapers, and small towns--his photographs are nostalgic without being sentimental, and rigorously formal while also offering impressions of impending loss and the effects of time. "It seems I have made a career of being one step ahead of the wrecking ball," Plowden has stated, "I have been beset with a sense of urgency to record those parts of our heritage which seem to be receding as quickly as the view from the rear of a speeding train. I fear that we are eradicating the evidence of our past accomplishments so quickly that in time we may well lose the sense of who we are." The Museum of Contemporary Photography has substantial holdings of Plowden's work, spanning from 1960 to 1992 and including photographs from a number of series, including Steel, Bridges, A Sense of Place, and Last of the Great Lakes Steamboats.
Plowden was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932. He made his first photograph, of a train, at age 11, and was introduced to the darkroom in the late 1940s while he was a student at the Putney School in Vermont. Plowden studied economics at Yale University and after graduating with a BA in 1955 he took a job with the Great Northern Railroad as the Assistant Trainmaster out of Wilmer, Minnesota. In 1958 and 1959 he worked as an assistant to photographer O. Winston Link, and from 1959 to 1960 he studied photography privately with Minor White and Nathan Lyons in Rochester, New York. Plowden began teaching in the late 1970s and in the following years he held positions at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (1978-1986); the University of Iowa School of Journalism (1985 to 1988), and Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (1988-2007). In addition to working as a photographer and educator, Plowden has been active as a writer as well. The Museum of Contemporary Photography exhibited Imprints, a retrospective of his work, in 1998. A substantial portion of Plowden's archive is held in the Yale Collection of Western Americana at Yale University's Beinecke Library.