Return to the Beinecke Library home page
IMPRINTS. David Plowden: A Retrospective
Exhibition through December 23, 1997 Opening Lecture & Reception on September 26, 1997

For four decades, the photographer David Plowden of Winnetka, Illinois, has documented our country's vanishing landscapes and artifacts, his stunning black and white photographs forming an image of life in 20th-century urban and rural America. One hundred original images from Mr. Plowden's new book, IMPRINTS, will be on display at Yale's Beinecke Library from September 26 until December 23. Simultaneous with the opening of the exhibit, Bullfinch Press/Little, Brown and Company will issue IMPRINTS. David Plowden: A Retrospective.

Since 1952, when he began to photograph steam locomotives, David Plowden has studied, documented, and commented upon the transformation of America. He has described himself as "an archeologist with a camera" who has spent his life "one step ahead of the wrecking ball." "I have been beset," Plowden says, "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." Gathering images from forty years of work, IMPRINTS presents Plowden's own view of where America has been and where it is going. From small towns and cityscapes to railroads and bridges, the photographs in the book and exhibition explore the beauty, power, blight, and significance of once common icons and vistas that are rapidly vanishing.

Alan Trachtenberg, Neil Gray Professor of English and American Studies at Yale University, has described Plowden's photographs as "integers in an ongoing forty-year conversation [he] has been holding with the American scene." "Taken individually, one at a time," Trachtenberg observes, "Plowden's pictures refresh the eye; they instruct, they remind, they warn, they engage us in a dialogue about the present state of our world. Cumulatively, they provide a memorable legacy of American imprints in their own right."

David Plowden, who graduated from Yale College in 1955 and later studies with the noted photographer Minor White, has written and illustrated nineteen books and provided photographs for numerous others. His photographs have appeared in dozens of periodicals including TimeNewsweekLifeAmerican HeritageAudubonSmithsonian, FortuneModern Photography, and  American Photographer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the International Center of Photography, the National Museum of American History, and the Kunstmuseum, Luzern, Switzerland have all exhibited his photographs, and his work is represented in the permanent collections of eighteen institutions including the Art Institute, the Center for Creative Photography, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Campus.

Two years ago, the Beinecke Library acquired a major portion of Mr. Plowden's archive of prints and research materials. The Plowden archive is part of the Yale Collection of Western Americana, already noted for its outstanding collection of 19th-century photography of the American West, including works by A. J. Russell, Timothy O'Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson, John Hillers, and William Bell.

To mark the opening of IMPRINTS, the Yale Collection of Western Americana will present a lecture by John R. Stilgoe, the Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape at Harvard University. The lecture, called "Permanent Way: Entering the Plowden Photograph," will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, September 26 in the Yale University Art Gallery Lecture Hall, High Street. A reception will follow at the Beinecke Library, 121 Wall Street. This event is free and open to the public.

The Beinecke Library is open for exhibition viewing Monday through Friday from 8:30 until 5, and on Saturday from 10 until 5 (closed Thanksgiving weekend). The library is located at 121 Wall Street at the center of the Yale University campus.

View a gallery of Plowden images

For more information about the Plowden exhibit or the Stilgoe lecture write to:

George Miles
Curator, Yale Collection of Western Americana
Beinecke Library
P. O. Box 208240 Yale Station
New Haven, CT 06520-8240
(203) 432-2958

Return to the Beinecke Library home page

Copyright 1996. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
All rights reserved.
Revised: June 07, 2012