Emmet Gowin, Old Hanford City Site and the Columbia River, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland, Washington
Emmet Gowin, Old Hanford City Site and the Columbia River, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland, Washington, 1986, © Emmet Gowin; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
Emmet Gowin, Abandoned Air Strip, Old Hanford City Site, Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington
Emmet Gowin, Abandoned Air Strip, Old Hanford City Site, Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington, 1986, © Emmet Gowin; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

Force of Nature

Emmet Gowin in the American West

Oct 10, 2015 – Jan 17, 2016

Passionate about the world surrounding him, Emmet Gowin has photographed aspects of nature—from tiny insects to expansive aerial views of the landscape—for more than forty years. Force of Nature features Gowin’s photographs of Mount St. Helens, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and the Nevada Test Site nuclear grounds. Together, these images trace nature’s unpredictable power and humanity’s own forceful manipulation of the American West.

Between 1980 and 1986, Gowin photographed Mount St. Helens, which erupted in May 1980 with a force equal to 27,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. Initially working from an aircraft and later on the ground, he charted the stunning aftermath of the natural phenomenon: Horizonless forests of felled trees and abstract mudflows dripping down the mountainside suggest a seemingly endless field of devastation and capture nature’s raw and stunning power.

In 1986, while still photographing Mount St. Helens, Gowin made a side trip to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. In his first foray into the nuclear landscape, he documented aspects of the country’s most contaminated nuclear site from above. Ten years later, Gowin photographed the secretive Nevada Test Site, where more than 800 nuclear experiments were conducted between 1951 and 1992. As a group, the three series reveal the terrible beauty of natural and human markmaking on the land initiated by sudden chaos and controlled usage: massive craters, linear trenches and roadways, and hardened rivers of lava.

The mythic American West has been a mainstay of landscape photography since the introduction of the medium. Gowin’s late-20th-century consideration of Mount St. Helens, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and the Nevada Test Site continues the photographic interpretation of and concern for the promising but unpredictable natural world west of the Mississippi.

Organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Julia Dolan, Ph.D., The Minor White Curator of Photography.

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To receive the $35 Portland Art Museum Member ticket price please use discount code: PAM when checking out.

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Explore the Museum with a docent skilled in bringing art to life.

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Every Friday evening, we invite you to play with us—to have a different Museum experience—a little bit more relaxed, more interactive, and more social experience. Admission is just $5 after 5 p.m.!

Here’s what we have in store:

Stay tuned to TwitterInstagram, and Facebook for the latest updates.

Learn more about Fridays at the Museum.

Purchase tickets
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Explore the Museum with a docent skilled in bringing art to life.

Public tours depart from the Park Avenue entrance.

Tours are free for members or with Museum admission, and free for children age 17 and younger.