David Plowden (born October 9, 1932), is an American photographer known for his historical documentary photography of urban cities, steam trains, American farmlands, and small towns.
Plowden graduated from Yale College in 1955. After working for the Great Northern Railway in 1959, Plowden studied under Minor White and Nathan Lyons, and was an assistant to O. Winston Link and George Meluso. He has held various teaching positions at Illinois Institute of Technology – Institute of Design, University of Iowa - School of Journalism, University of Baltimore, and Grand Valley State University. Plowden was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968.
David Plowden's work is currently included in the permanent collection of many art museums, including the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. In 1995, David Plowden agreed to transfer the entire archive of his notes, negatives and prints to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University at the end of his career.
David Plowden has produced 20 books, including his recent Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden, published in 2010 by W.W. Norton. In 2017, the Milwaukee School of Engineering Grohmann Museum exhibited his "Steel: The Cycle of Industry" collection and repackaged a photo book of the same name, which chronicles steel from its start as taconite pellet mines in Minnesota to the blast furnaces of Gary, Indiana, and from its shipment across the Great Lakes to the demise of the mills in places like Lackawanna, N.Y.
Plowden's photographs are characterized by their stark detail. In the steel mill photos, the artist attributed this to shots he would overexpose and under develop. On his subject matter -- steam engines, small town Main Streets, steel mills -- Plowden said: "I have always felt that I have been standing in the middle ground between two eras, with one eye on the 19th century and the other on the 21st ... all across America we have left abandoned, like carcasses after the feast, that which only yesterday was state-of-the-art invention."
In July 1977, he married Sandra (nee Schoellkopf). He lives in Winnetka, Illinois.
- "Steel: the Cycle of Industry" (2017) Grohmann Museum, M.S.O.E.
- "Industrial Landscape" (1985)