I remember my first experience with Robert Adams’ photographs: I thought they were mistakes. The book — maybe it was What We Bought: The New World : Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area 1970-1974 or Perfect Times, Perfect Places — was like nothing I had ever seen before. In the black and white images, the skies were burned out, everything was excessively contrasty, and there often was no center of interest. They were chaotic, messy, unattractive.
But this work was just one strand of Robert Adams’ oeuvre. I looked longer at these and other photographs and began to see the value in them. Adams’ act of rule-breaking subversively encouraged me to question the value of the picturesque tradition of “straight photography” in the American West. Did those beautiful images show me anything new? Were they accurate? Do the older images still resonate with the West that I know? Do they encourage a nostalgic yearning for a Western utopia that can’t (and shouldn’t) exist?
And many of Adams’ photographs are fantastic and intriguing. Like Bill Owens’ Suburbia, they show us who we were when I was very young, and they can be (in various amounts) beautiful and ugly and compelling and easily dismissed. Even now, they speak passionately for Western lands without being trite. The difficulty in viewing these images owes as much to our American desire to like what we see as to the abrogation of the Western art tradition.
So take a few minutes and look at Tyler Green’s review of Robert Adams @ the Getty. And while you’re at, check out these links:
- Robert Adams: Landscapes of Harmony and Dissonance at The Getty
- Robert Adams at The Museum of Contemporary Photography
- Along Some Rivers: Photographs and Conversations (Aperture)
- Works by Robert Adams (SF MoMA)