David Plowden was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He made his first photograph—which notably was of a train—when he was just 11 years old. He was introduced to the darkroom in the late 1940s while he was a student at the Putney School in Vermont. Plowden studied economics at Yale University, and after graduating with a BA in 1955, he took a job with the Great Northern Railroad as the Assistant Trainmaster out of Wilmer, Minnesota. In 1958 and 1959 he worked as an assistant to photographer O. Winston Link, and from 1959 to 1960 he studied photography privately with Minor White and Nathan Lyons in Rochester, New York. A substantial portion of Plowden’s archive is held in the Yale Collection of Western Americana at Yale University’s Beinecke Library.