Last week, Associate Professor of Photography Michael Kolster was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, which will support Kolster in his current photo project, entitled “Take Me to the River.”

“The Guggenheim Fellowship is held in very high regard,” wrote Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd in an e-mail to the Orient. “It is a prestigious award for ‘mid-career’ faculty that recognizes distinguished scholarly or artistic accomplishment and potential.”

According to the Guggenheim Fellowship website, around 200 recipients are selected from a pool of around 4,000. 

“It’s a river project; a project I’ve been working on for a little while now that examines American rivers,” said Kolster. “It’s interesting that it happened that the project actually coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the Clean Water Act.” 

Kolster’s focus on American rivers and their histories of pollution began through his interest in the nearby Androscoggin River. He, along with Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies Matthew Klingle, used the river as a mechanism to familiarize himself with Bowdoin’s surrounding area. 

“We realized that as transplants, we both had an interest and a connection to this this place we lived in—wanted to get to know it a little bit better—so part of it was that we realized that both of us shared an interest in the river,” said Kolster. 

One of the things that drew Kolster to the river was its surprising history.

“It was one of the ten most polluted rivers in the United States, so it was in really bad shape forty years ago,” he said. “In fact, we talked with a biologist, a professor emeritus here, who did a study of the river in 1970 and found no evidence of life in its waters. It was a dead river.”  

Kolster’s interest in the rehabilitated river in Bowdoin’s backyard led him to the James River in Virginia. Despite the vast distance between the two, they had shared histories of pollution and restoration. He then expanded the project to also include the Schuylkill River, which runs through Philadelphia. 

Thanks to the Guggenheim Fellowship, Kolster will be able to photograph the Teton River in Idaho, where he will focus on a destructed dam site and a recent community effort to eliminate invasive rainbow trout from the river. 

“You can go there today, and you can see evidence of this failure of the dam; right now there’s contemporary conversation around rebuilding the dam,” he said. 

Kolster’s photographs are done through a 19th century procedure called the wet plate collodion process, which he believes serves as a link to the rivers’ industrial history. 

“I realized after making these things that the connection between the process, which is a wet process, and this unstable moving flowing subject, had a one-to-one relationship,” he said. 

“Really the project is about how we imagine place, and what our relationship with it is,” Kolster said. 

Bowdoin alum and poet L.S. Asekoff ’61 also received a fellowship, and is using the funds to work on two pieces. One is a book of poems called “Clermont,” and the other is a single book-length poem called “The Vanishing Hand.” His works have been featured in Slate Magazine, The New Yorker, and Boston Review. 

Correction, April 20 at 5:40 p.m.: The original article stated that Matthew Klingle is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies. He is, in-fact, an Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies. The error has been corrected.

Correction, April 24 at 3 p.m.: The original article stated that Professor Kolster will document a steelhead restoration of the Los Angeles River, which is not the case. The error has been corrected.