Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Robert C. Hobbs


Exemplified in the oeuvres of photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, and Emmet Gowin, the photographer's wife is a distinctive subject in twentieth-century American fine-art photography that fuses the domains of public and private life through the conflation of art and marriage. The transgressive nature of this juncture can be located in a confluence of gazes - the artist's, the subject's, and the viewer's - that are embroiled in constructing subjectivities. The phrase "photographer's wife" underscores an assumed imbalance of power reflecting a binary of active/passive, artist/model, and husband/wife. It is this study's contention that the complexity of the wife's role in the inspiration and production of her husband's creative output and the fluid nature of this interdependency are significant factors in images of her made by him and that they undermine the efficacy of this binary. A discursive examination of the subject, with an emphasis on Gowin's Edith series, will determine how perceptions of marriage affect the viewing of those images.

Since the early 1970s, Gowin has guided the critical reception of his photographs with a distinctly anagogical reading of the works. This study contrasts Gowin's narrative with a discursive reading, allowing the works to be examined suprapersonally as a means of determining the larger dynamic traditions from which they derive. The subject implicates numerous discourses that are examined within the areas of gender and power, portraiture and self-portraiture, representation and identity, and viewer reception. Additionally, images in the Edith series often traverse the genre formations of photography. By defamiliarizing family, snapshot, documentary, and art photography, Gowin's images create intervals between genres allowing them to be viewed intertexturally as contained by the boundaries of genre formation and outside of it. This aspect of the work illustrates how images of the photographer's wife can be viewed at the interstices of the public and private worlds of art and marriage, as well as across photographic genres. Viewed discursively, the photographer's wife can be examined as a dynamic production of knowledge that is shaped and reshaped over time.


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