Beth Dow’s work examines ways we shape our environments and how we use photography to mediate that experience. Her work has been exhibited in America, Britain, Japan, China, Switzerland, and Germany, and has received many awards, including Grand Prize in the inaugural Photography.Book.Now competition, top-six finalist in the 2007 Critical Mass Book Award, and fellowships from the McKnight Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Dow’s photographs have been reviewed in many publications including The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, and Boston Globe. She lives in Minneapolis.


I learned to love light as a child. Some of my earliest memories involve sitting on a wooden stool in my father’s basement darkroom, blinking under safelights as images bloomed in tangy, acrid trays. Light, machines, and chemicals made actual pictures of actual things. I made photograms of my hands, and projected slides drawn with a Sharpie on clear scrap film. I noticed shadows and soft, shimmery highlights, and understood how they affected film and paper. Later, I discovered this was a private pleasure, and that not all fathers were working photographers.

I’m naturally attracted to things that don’t seem quite right – things that spread a subtle standard deviation from normal. This might be the shaggy overgrown borders of a formal English garden, faked ruins at a Wisconsin water park, or simply an odd quality of light. I’m curious about how we shape and experience the land, looking for peculiar ways we leave our marks, either through grand gestures like the Roman Forum, or the more subtle geometries of stacked wood. The processes and history of the medium are integral parts of my practice, and I’m especially curious about how we use photography to mediate that experience. How do we move through space and time, and what traces do we leave behind? What forms do we create or retain, and what do we toss aside? These are questions that drive my work.

While I combine vintage and contemporary methods with references from art history, this is all without nostalgia. I like the juxtaposition of disparate elements, much like standing on Earth, looking up at the night sky, knowing that the light from the stars is the distant past only just now reaching me and that someone, some thing, out there in space wouldn’t see our reflected light until the very distant future. I think I’m just willing to consider time as plane rather than line.

I work quickly with a hand-held camera, looking for things that I can’t immediately discern, aiming to document my initial, pre-intellectual encounter with something. This instant is the most honest to me, because it is an event free of thought, critical impulses, and external influence, and is the only time I can see the world for what it really is, on its own terms. Our brains work furiously to make sense of the puzzling things we meet, but that rationality neutralizes and humanizes the experience. I try to capture the world, both natural and artificial, from its own perspective, which presents itself only in that quick and fleeting flash.

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