Sunday, November 25, 2012

Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs

Ever since visiting the Robert Adams retrospective at Yale University over Fall Break, I have been thinking about this post. Why do I love his work so much? The answer boils down to this: he is a perfect combination of writer and photographer and the understated subtleties of his photographs make it all the more powerful. It also doesn't hurt that the majority of his images come from the West and very specific locations that I like to call home.  Seeing this exhibition on the East coast felt very far from the Northwest which introduced feelings of homesickness on several occasions.

I believe the wall text came from his publications because of its familiarity. Here are two contrasting pieces - one of which could describe where I live now and the other where I lived once before.

Here are two favorites from The New West series.

Adams' photographs are very small and the curators successfully incorporated his books throughout the exhibition. Above was a favorite method of this display and this Anselm Kiefer piece sprang to mind upon my initial encounter.

This page from Adams' journal is sparse. I wondered if this was typical.

The big surprise was the objects included in the exhibition: cottonwood bark cut from a tree in Longmont, Colorado, a bird wing carved from boxwood in 2001 (above), and "a book made with hand tools by Adams in 2000 from an old-growth plank brought up from the beach fifteen years earlier" (below).

I was introduced to many books that I hadn't known about before and immediately placed several on interlibrary loan including the hefty three volume catalog (things I wish I owned but are too expensive to justify).

From the exhibition wall text in a room on the top floor in a quiet space away from the crowd below: "As I recorded these scenes, I found myself asking many questions, among them: What of equivalent value have we inherited in exchange for the original forest? Is there a relationship between clearcutting and war, the landscape of one being in some respects like the landscape of the other? Does clearcutting originate in disrespect? Does it teach violence? Does it contribute to nihilism? Why did I never meet parents walking there with their children?"

Adams' art is thought provoking and quiet; his attitudes about the land run close to my heart. This exhibition is one of my favorites of 2012 and happily marks my first visit to Yale University. There were free posters in the lounge in front of the gallery. I hope I wasn't greedy when I chose two: one to be kept untouched in my closet and the other to hang at school.

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