(3/55) Robert Adams - photographer


I've had a lot of opportunities for soul searching in the past year for a number of reasons and looking hard & deep at myself & my work in photography over nearly 30 years.
And what I've learned quite simply is that I've changed a great deal. Changed in terms of how I use the camera. Changed in terms of what interests me. And changed in my tastes in photography, which are much broader and less exclusive than those of the surly teenager who first picked up a camera back in the late 1970's. 


You might be asking yourself at this point, what has all of this got to do with Robert Adams? 

Well, for a start (if you're not familiar with his work) Robert Adams work is deceptively simple.
For a long while I viewed him as part & parcel of the New Topographic movement.
Someone who typified the often austere, descriptive photography of that group. Producing classic examples of the post-modernist trend in photography of that period e.g. empty landscapes like housing developments that felt (to me) a bit empty and lacking in emotional pull & descriptive resonance.
Emotionally cold (or is that numb?) might be a better description.

I still feel that way in general, about for example Lewis Baltz's work, but not Robert Adams. 
I was quite wrong about him. 

I can see now as an older (and maybe wiser photographer) that I wasn't looking hard enough at Robert Adams photography. I just didn't 'get' him. Slowly over the years, I've seen more of his landscape photographs and read his writings. And I've also listened to the views of folk I respect, who admire Adams work. 

And then a few years ago, I bought 2 books of his: "Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974" and " What We Bought: The New World: Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974".  Great books, that showed his range and the very different way he has looked at the world around him.

The photographs below. some of which were in the 2 books I bought, all show a very inquisitive eye at work, honestly dissecting the landscapes in from of him.

While he doesn't in general take close-up views of people, his photographs often show a human presence (either directly seen or hinted at)  in many photographs.
His photographs of the American landscape use photography to show the changing face of the American landscape and man's dominant impact on it. I find them honest and quite beautiful in a very understated way.

I also like his framing and the way he describes space and light. He has a light touch. Ansel Adams might show a landscape using dramatic light & shadow to create drama.
What's on show in Robert Adams photographs is not drama but poetry. The poetry of the mundane perhaps but through his light touch elevated to high art.

This is especially evident in his recent series 'Summer Nights, Walking'.
These pictures, taken in the most hostile of lighting conditions, are for me, probably his most personal yet. I like them a lot.
A hostile critic might say these photographs are not of anything. Or about anything in particular.
If they did, I'd say they weren't looking hard enough. Or were thinking too much and not allowing their eyes to do the work.

What's on show is subtle. Its about quiet mysteries. About an overwhelming sense of enveloping darkness. And about a time of day that is regarded by many photographers of the landscape as a no-go area.
Robert Adams has gone out into the night, in & around a suburban landscape lit by streetlights (if it's lit at all) and come away with many small treasures.

That's the sure sign of a master photographer at work.


N Lloyd


 Near Heber City, Utah, 1978



From Lookout Mountain, Colorado


Untitled, Denver


 Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968

 



photographs below are from the series: Summer Nights, Walking




 


All photographs copyright original copyright owners
All text copyright Nick Lloyd 2012
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