Jim Dow: Photographs of North Dakota Environmental Folk Art
April 23 - June 18, 2000
This exhibition, portraying the rural folk art culture of North Dakota, was commissioned by the North Dakota Museum of Art in the 1980s with a grant from Target Stores through the Dayton Hudson Foundation. Over the past 20 years Dow, his wife Jacquie, and his apprentices have spent months traveling thousands of miles throughout the state, capturing a diverse range of folk art including country signage, hand-painted billboards, abandoned churches, quirky neon lights, artisans' workshops, unusual windmills, empty sports arenas, assemblages of cans shaped into sculptures, barn paintings, road signs created by local residents, artwork found in country bars, ornate grave-markers, and icons and altar-pieces in country churches that reflect the legacy of immigrant forefathers.
The graphically descriptive, historically accurate photographs speak of Dow's interest in photography in its capacity for exact description. He is constantly struck by the power inherent in an object or scene when carefully isolated and clearly rendered. He uses photography to "try and record those manifestations of human ingenuity and spirit that are still left in the day to day landscape of our country." With his 8 x 10 camera, Dow realizes his rule of thumb to "photograph things that have been created for reasons more perfunctory than aesthetic."
A sports fan, Dow has photographed numerous arenas, usually when empty. He was one of the official photographers of the Los Angeles Olympics and has photographed, by commission, all of the major league football stadiums in the country. While working in North Dakota in the early 1980s, he photographed many regional ball fields and arenas, from children's pick-up lots to the University of North Dakota Hockey Arena. Five years ago he returned to photograph all of the baseball stadiums in the Prairie League, including Grand Forks.
Jim Dow's interest in photography began at the Rhode Island School of Design in the sixties where he earned an undergraduate degree in graphic design. His discovery of American Photographs, Walker Evans' book of documentary photographs, was the catalyst for his passion for a straightforward, factual approach to photography. Dow worked as a photographic printer for Walker Evans and the Museum of Modern Art from 1970 through 1972, and made the bulk of the prints shown in the huge Evans Retrospective at the Museum in 1972, as well as those used for the monograph, Walker Evans.
Dow's other credentials include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Photography in 1972, " . . . to photograph along the American Roadscape, particularly the old through-routes that have been supplanted by the Interstate System . . ." To this end, Dow traveled over 30,000 miles during winter, spring and summer of 1973. Two years later he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he received a second NEA Fellowship in 1979.
Dow has taught at Harvard University, Boston Museum/Tufts University Combined Program, Princeton University, the Vancouver School of Art, Vancouver, B.C., and has been a visiting lecturer and teacher at several other universities.