Borowiec was born in 1956 in New York City but moved to Paris with his parents when he was nine months old. He spent his childhood in France, Algeria, Tunisia, and Switzerland, where he graduated from the International School of Geneva. He received a B.A. in Russian from Haverford College in 1979 and an M.F.A. in Photography from Yale University in 1982. Andrew Borowiec has photographed America’s changing industrial and post-industrial landscape for over three decades. His books include Along the Ohio (2000), Industrial Perspective: Photographs of the Gulf Coast (2005), and Cleveland: The Flats, the Mill, and the Hills (2008).
For over three decades Andrew Borowiec has photographed the social landscape of the
Rust Belt, America’s vast industrial heartland, which extends from upstate New York to
the shores of Lake Michigan in the west and into Appalachia south of the Ohio River.
The region has been in steady decline since the 1980s but the global economic meltdown
of 2008 was especially hard for Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where
Borowiec made these photographs. Houses are disintegrating, entire blocks of
downtowns have been boarded up, and factories are being dismantled. People
accustomed to a life of hard work are losing their jobs, their homes, and their place in
the world. The Rust Belt’s landscape is a study of contrasts and contradictions, where
ramshackle frame houses sit cheek by jowl with vestiges of the steel mills that once
brought employment and prosperity to the region.
Setting aside geographical differences, the circumstances of the post-industrial Rust Belt
reflect an increasingly ubiquitous inequality found throughout Twenty-First Century
America, where most people aren’t as well off as they used to be, or as they would like to
be. At the same time, the pictures also show signs of hope. The inhabitants of factory
towns are tenacious and resilient. While they may have to live next door to an
abandoned factory out of economic necessity, they nonetheless struggle to achieve some
semblance of the American Dream under less than ideal circumstances.
The photographs are, in large part, about the characteristics that define the specific
identity of a place—its topography, its architecture, its history, the arrangement and
decoration of back yards. At the same time, Borowiec makes pictures whose details serve
as clues to understanding the values, aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the people who
live in that landscape. He uses a straightforward, documentary style so that the
photographs appear as believable as possible; the decisions he makes about moment,
framing, and vantage point all combine to suggest an authentic historical record. Those
decisions are based not only on observation, but on extensive research about the place.
Borowiec uses the Depression-era WPA guides to gain an understanding of what the
region was like at the peak of its prosperity, and to understand the subject’s current
condition in relation to the record of its past. At the same time, he include details—
signage, fragments of text, children’s toys— that conspire to clarify, complicate, and
sometimes undermine the picture’s ostensible meaning. In the end, the photographs
constitute a delicate balancing act between cultural, historical and economic histories
and his subjective experience of the place.
He has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and in 2006 was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize. Borowiec’s photographs have been exhibited around the world and are in the collections of the Chicago Art Institute, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, among others.
He has worked as a photojournalist, as the staff photographer for the International Center of Photography in New York City, as the Assistant Director of Workshops for the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, France, and as the Director of the University of Akron Press. Borowiec has taught photography at Parsons School of Design, the New School for Social Research, Germantown Academy, and Oberlin College. From 1984 until 2014 he taught at the University of Akron, where he was named a Distinguished Professor of Art in 2009. He lives in New York City and Akron, Ohio, with his wife, Andrea and a beagle, Boudreaux.
To view more of Andrew’s work please visit his website.