Beth Dow

(American, b. 1965, resides in Minneapolis, MN)

Beth Dow’s photographs are printed using the platinum-palladium process, invented in the late-nineteenth century, which yields a wide and subtle range of soft gray tones. Across the three separate photographic series represented here, Dow investigates how people shape the landscape around them, often as an appeal to beauty. In the process, the artist draws out unexpected tensions in the places she photographs—sometimes in a manner that challenges the seductive quality of her prints—and her work resonates with different moments in the history of photography.

In the series In the Garden, Dow portrays the highly cultivated landscapes of European formal gardens. Dow has a particular interest in the dynamics of light and shadow, and shape and mass, but she considers photography a means to create her own path through the gardens, rather than simply as tool to depict them. She writes, “by positioning the lens, cropping my prints, and using burning and dodging to guide the viewer’s eye through a picture, I feel that I too am a gardener in a sense.”

Dow turns to what she describes as “marginal landscapes” for the series Fieldwork, which she explored and photographed during “the precarious seasons of late fall and early spring, when everything hangs between life, death, and life again.” Dow draws on the formal history of landscape photography, representing these wooded settings and open fields as picturesque and tranquil places. Nevertheless, many include signs of human intervention, such as felled trees or orderly stacks of logs, which hint at destructive processes and ecological implications.

In the series Ruins Dow depicts places in the United States where ruins have been constructed at full scale, instilling the banal landscape with a romanticized classicism. In part, the artist was influenced by the “Grand Tours” of Victorian-age photographers like Francis Frith, who brought views of exotic locations and of actual ruins back to “armchair travelers.” In Dow’s photographs, though, this nineteenth-century tradition converges with the more recent, ongoing practice of photographers—most famously Walker Evans and Robert Frank—traveling the United States to document the country’s vernacular forms.

Dow’s photographs have been exhibited throughout the Midwest, as well in New York, the United Kingdom, Japan and China. She has been the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship (2008), a McKnight Foundation Fellowship (2004), and a Greater London Arts grant (1989). Her work is represented in public collections such as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Portland Art Museum.

Burning Stubble, from the Fieldwork series, 2004Burning Stubble, from the Fieldwork series, 2004
Broken Tree, from the Fieldwork series, 2006Broken Tree, from the Fieldwork series, 2006

Museum of Contemporary Photography

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