Princeton University Art Museum Acquires the Archive of Celebrated Photographer Emmet Gowin

The collection includes thousands of objects that detail the full breadth of Gowin’s career as an artist and teacher. 

PRINCETON, NJ – The Princeton University Art Museum announced today that the world-renowned photographer, fine artist, and Princeton University Professor Emeritus Emmet Gowin has committed his archive to the Museum. The Emmet Gowin Archive is the latest addition to the Museum’s holdings of artist archives, already notably strong in the area of photography. Gowin’s archive joins those of the notable photographers Clarence H. White, Ruth Bernhard, and Minor White. 

Made possible by the extraordinary generosity of Emmet Gowin and his wife Edith—who has been Emmet’s muse, partner, and spouse for sixty years—the Gowin archive spans six decades and holds thousands of objects, including 

  • More than 650 signed, finished photographs 
  • Approximately 500 unsigned test prints 
  • Approximately 7,000 rolls of film 
  • Approximately 7,000 contact sheets 
  • Approximately 3 handmade photographic albums 
  • Approximately 3 book maquettes, including photographic prints 
  • Additional photographic and biographical materials 
  • More than 50 photographs by other artists, including Sally Mann, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, and Walker Evans, among others 

Museum director James Steward noted, “I have long felt that Emmet is one of the essential photographers of our time. Since coming to Princeton it has been a personal passion that Emmet’s archive—the full record of his artistic life—should come to Princeton, where he taught with such impact for so many years. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Emmet and Edith for making this happen.” 

Altogether, the archive—which will continue to grow as Gowin produces new works—amounts to the largest and most definitive group of photographs and records by the artist, who joined the faculty of Princeton University’s Visual Arts Program in 1973, teaching regularly from the Museum’s extensive photographic holdings. Gowin was recruited to Princeton by Peter C. 

Bunnell, then the inaugural David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art and subseqently director of the Art Museum. Recalls Gowin, “For years, Peter and I were a team, in love with photography as a way of learning and growing one’s perception.” Emmet Gowin would teach at Princeton for thirty-six years until his retirement in 2009. The Museum marked that occasion with the exhibition Emmet Gowin: A Collective Portrait, featuring the work of some of Gowin’s former students who have gone on to remarkable careers in photography, including Andrew Moore, Fazal Sheikh, David Maisel, Laura McPhee, Accra Shepp, and Carla Williams. 

Early in his career, Gowin was inspired by the work of Robert Frank, whose advice Gowin sought as an undergraduate student at the Richmond Professional Institute in Richmond, Virginia. Encouraged by Frank, Gowin entered the Rhode Island School of Design to study under the photographer Harry Callahan, who became his mentor and encouraged the young Gowin to photograph the life surrounding him. In this effort Gowin excelled, imbuing his early photographs with emotion. 

Gowin’s earliest mature works, from the early 1960s, are depictions of his wife, Edith Morris Gowin, whom he married in 1964. Photographing her in black and white, Gowin returned to his partner—and later, their children—as a subject throughout his career, often with an intimacy that flouted the standards of the time. Gowin’s work in this arena has in turn influenced the work of Sally Mann and subsequent generations of artists whose photographs intimately capture the world around them. 

After the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens in Washington State, Gowin turned his attention to aerial photography, examining the surface of the Earth through series that captured at once the objective facts of landscape formations and the emotional power they wield over viewers. Later works have explored nuclear test sites, tropical ecosystems, and the chemo-petrol industries of the Czech Republic and the agricultural landscape of Granada. 

“I feel deeply grateful to know that my archive will be held at the Princeton University Art Museum, an institution that offers so much to the students of the University. In the wonderful thirty-six years I taught at Princeton, I regularly walked my classes over to the Art Museum for exhibitions or to see photographs in the study room with Peter Bunnell,” recalled Emmet Gowin. “It is gratifying to know my archive will be housed at this new Museum for Princeton, ready to serve future generations of students, researchers, and a public I will never know, into the future beyond what I can see.” 

The Gowins assembled the archive for the purpose of creating a comprehensive representation of Emmet Gowin’s life’s work as an artist and teacher. The archive will serve as a resource for future teaching, research, publications, and exhibitions. Gathered from the personal and professional collections of Emmet and Edith Gowin, the photographs and other materials include highlights such as: 

  • The complete works from his series Nevada Test Site and The One Hundred Circle Farm 
  • Unique and exceptional salt prints by the artist on handmade paper 
  • Every photograph featured in Gowin’s retrospective held at the Fundación Mapfre in Madrid in 2013 

The archive becomes a fundamental element of the Art Museum’s “campaign for art,” an ongoing effort to secure gifts and promised gifts of works of art on the occasion of its groundbreaking new facility, scheduled to open in 2025. Highlights of that effort will be on view in one of the inaugural exhibitions that will launch the new facility. 

“Getting to know Emmet and his equally amazing wife Edith has truly been one of the great joys of my decade at the Museum,” said Bunnell Curator of Photography Katherine A. Bussard. "Working with them both to bring the Gowin archive to Princeton is one of my deepest honors, ensuring that this legendary photographer’s work—from the personal picture to the ecological document, from the miniscule details of a moth to the aerial markings of the landscape—will continue to be appreciated for decades to come” 



About Emmet Gowin 

Born in Danville, Virginia, in 1941, Emmet Gowin is Professor Emeritus of Photography in the Council of the Humanities, Princeton University, where he began teaching in the Visual Arts Program in 1973. A 1990 a retrospective of his work, Emmet Gowin/Photographs: This Vegetable Earth Is But A Shadow, debuted at Philadelphia Museum of Art before traveling to seven major U.S. cities. A recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship (1974) and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (1977 and 1979), Gowin has also received awards from the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (1983) and the Seattle Arts Commission (1980) as well as the 1983 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts from the State of Pennsylvania, the 1992 Friends of Photography Peer Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for 1993–94. He received the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University in 1997. His work is represented by Pace Gallery in New York. 

About the Princeton University Art Museum 

With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, featuring collections that have grown to include more than 115,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. 

The main Museum building is currently closed for the construction of a bold and welcoming new building, slated to open in 2025. 

Art on Hulfish, a gallery project of the Art Museum located at 11 Hulfish Street, is open daily. Art@Bainbridge, a gallery project at 158 Nassau Street, is open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission to both galleries is free. 

Please visit the Museum’s website for digital access to the collections, a diverse portfolio of programs, and details on visiting our downtown galleries. The Museum Store in Palmer Square, located at 56 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton, is open daily, or shop online at 

Media Contact: Pac Pobric/Emma Gordon |