"What I love about Jim Dow's pictures is that they're not kidding." Ian Frazier, introduction to American Studies (2011).
Born in Boston in 1942, Dow earned a BFA in graphic design and MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1965 and 1968, respectively. Walker Evans's seminal book American Photographs (1938) was an early influence. He recalls the appeal of Evans's "razor sharp, infinitely detailed, small images of town architecture and people. What stood out was a palpable feeling of loss...pictures that seemingly read like paragraphs, even chapters in one long, complex, rich narrative." Soon after graduate school, he had the opportunity to work with Evans and was hired to print his mentor's photographs for a 1972 Museum of Modern Art retrospective.
Dow has taught photography, photographic histories and contemporary art at Cooper Union, Harvard, Princeton, Vancouver School of Art & Design, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. His work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States as well as Argentina, Canada, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. Various projects have been supported by the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, the Financial Times Magazine, the Joseph E. Seagram's Corporation, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The New England Foundation for The Arts, the North Dakota Museum of Art, the Polaroid Corporation, the Target Corporation, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, as well as numerous private and public organizations and individuals.
In addition to appearing in a wide variety of publications over the years, he has authored two books, Marking the Land (2007) with the North Dakota Museum of Art and the University of Chicago Press and American Studies (2011) with The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and powerHouse Books.
Recent one-person exhibitions include: Obsession: The Stadium Photography & Soccer Shirt Collection of Jim Dow, Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA (2014). Taco Trucks, Taquerias & Carritos, Robert Klein Gallery @ Ars Libri, Boston, MA (2015). EAT, MTA – Arts for Transit, Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY (2014-17). Eat & Drink, Janet Borden Inc, Brooklyn, NY (2017).
Recent group exhibitions include: Taco Trucks, Robert Klein Gallery at The Armory Show, New York, NY (2015). Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, The Barbican, London & Manchester, UK (2016). Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY (2016).
Recent publications include: Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, Alona Pardo/Martin Parr. Barbican/Prestel (2016). Changing The Goalposts (28 May, 2016) Financial Times Weekend Magazine, London, UK, print and online. Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, Gail Buckland. Knopf (2016). Taco Trucks, PhotoDot, Korea (2017). Exit Magazine, Madrid, Spain (2017). Road Trip, 1814 Magazine (2017). PhotoRx: Pharmacy in Photography Since 1850. Deborah Goodman Davis, Damiani (2017)
In 2014, he received the Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA) Lifetime Achievement Focus Award as a photographer and teacher.
In the fall of 2017, he signed a contract with the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University to house his entire negative, print and teaching collection, the preparation of which will occupy much of the next four years.
Dow worked on a collaborative, four-person exhibition featuring his work as well as that of SMFA graduate Guillermo Srodek-Hart, Walker Evans, and Argentine photographer Fernando Paillet. The exhibition opened at FOLA, in Buenos Aires, Argentina in August 2018.
In 2020, Dow retired from teaching at SMFA at Tufts and was awarded the title of Emeritus by the Tufts Board of Trustees.