Photographer pushes the boundaries
Man of many talents dazzles with ‘innovative’ collection
By Bobbi Booker,
As a great contemporary American painter, etcher and lithographer for more than 35 years, John Edward Dowell, 65, has now added master photographer to his list of accolades. During a debut of his latest exhibit “Cityscapes,” which opened in Philadelphia on Friday at the Brandywine Workshop, Dowell greeted dozens of art enthusiast, collectors and colleagues who were captivated by the scope and artistic depth of his latest collection. The North Philadelphia resident happened upon his innovative, cutting-edge style of photography less than a year ago as he experimented with combining lithographs with photo images of slices of urban life. Eventually, photography evolved into his primary focus. Dowell now shoots photos using a 4-by-5-format field camera and then digitally scans the images. The final pictures are produced as nearly 2-by-3 foot prints that are amazingly detailed. High-rise vantage points serve as his backdrop for capturing spectacularly detailed slices of urban life. What is most unusual is that each of Dowell’s photographs captures a natural, ethereal-type of iridescence that results from a blend of light and movement. As guests survey the multidimensional photographs, they marvel at the spectrum of color and cutting-edge photographic style. They also point out the clarity of everyday life captured in the photos, which convey the tale of metropolitan life in each respective city. In one photograph, Dowell shoots Chicago’s landmark Marina City, built by architect master Bertrand Goldberg. The photos capture the Twin Round Towers (aka corn cobs) in a multidimensional montage that reflects, in extraordinary detail, a McDonald’s work crew cleaning up after closing on the building’s ground floor; a Christmas tree twinkling in a eighth floor bay window, the continuous blur of saffron highway traffic and mirrored images reflecting iridescent scenes off of the Chicago River. “What blew me away was they aren’t like any approach to photography I’d ever seen,” said Allen Edmonds, president and executive director of Brandywine Workshop. “It’s the choice of contrast, the colors, the time of day and they were not manipulated. That’s composition … that’s understanding. So they’re really paintings. You couldn’t do this and just be a photographer with a camera. You’ve got to be an artist to do this.” Dowell’s works in canvas, ceramics and print currently sits in 58 private museum collections worldwide, including the Biblioteque Nationale Museum in Paris; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and Yale University Museum. “ It’ s electric,” said Larry Robin, owner of Robin’ s Bookstore. “ His art has evolved from ceramics, to lithography, to photography. John has a mind that just doesn’ t stop. He wasn’ t a photographer. He was looking for a way to express the continuity of what you see.” He is the chair of the Printmaking Area and a full, 35-year tenured professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Dowell instructs students in his master’s of fine art classes to think beyond the rules, urging them to interpret art with the nostalgic vision of their mind’s eye and creative autonomy. A Lindback Award recipient, recognized for distinguished teaching, Dowell has taught his innovative perspective on art at universities spanning from Rome to Seattle. Still, it is his laid-back North Philadelphia style and artisan’s finesse that people notice before they’ve even glimpsed his work. “He was never trained as a photographer, if so, they would have told him that he couldn’t do this,” Robin said. “He knew what he wanted and he made the camera do what he wanted, which was to be able to see and sense the history, movement, continuity, while capturing the separateness and space.” A major element in Dowell’s art has been to find an abstract, visual interpretation of poetry and music. He has been drawn in particular to the equivalent of a artsy-style visual of jazz. “In my head, I’m thinking about music,” Dowell said. “I want to shoot where you see a reflection from the outside (and wonder) is that real or not real? But then, I’m shooting inside the building and you see people inside. But it’s all caught in an instant. I hear one guy blowing the saxophone and all of a sudden the drummer comes in with a solo. See that’s what I hear and I’m looking for that and I see that in my images.” Artist and poet Theodore Harris said, “It’s so shocking and beautiful. The fact that he has expanded his vision with photographs and experimentation, ever since I’ve seen John’s work from his abstract prints and drawing to this he’s always expanding his work … moving into realms of thought. This takes you into another world and let’s you know more about him as a person and an artist. That’s what it’s all about: taking chances and rolling the dice and see what we hit. I think John hit big time with this.” “Illuminations” featuring the photographic work of John E. Dowell Jr. and Andrea Baldeck runs through July 8 at the Brandywine Workshop, 730 S. Broad St . For more information contact (215) 546-3675 or visit http://www.brandywineworkshop.com/.