Thursday, March 10, 2011
"The landscape is the place we live... we cannot therefore scan it without scanning ourselves."
- John Swarovski, introduction to The New West
Robert Adams work is focused on how the western landscapes of North America have been shaped by human influence. His photography takes a stance of apparent neutrality, refraining from any obvious judgement of the subject matter.
Adams' was a professor of English at the University of Colorado before taking up photography. This background is clear in the way he addressed the destruction of the western landscape and discussed some of the attitudinal shifts that would be necessary for its future preservation,"if we call places by names that are accurate, we may ultimately find it easier to live in them". In a similar fashion Adams photographs offer a lesson in the value of candor. His picture make fresh what we think we have seen and know. He rediscovers the known landscape and returns it to a state similar to that found in survey photographs: strange, unknown and unnamed.
Unlike typical survey publications though, Adams' pictures are not accompanied by diagrams or maps. However the minimal amount of text serves to underline the scientific and informational purity of the pictures themselves. Their seemingly prosaic, unpictorial character gives them the semblance of images made for the purpose of date alone.
Meanwhile, Adams skillfully and subtly plays with the would-be objective and seemingly non-selective character of survey photography and uses it to his own subjective ends. For example, the separation of title from image, and the image's consequent isolation allows for a symbolical representation of a much larger idea of the West rather than a limited geographical area. For Adams, space is a stage without a centre, and his lack of a singular, clearly established subject corresponds to the apparent infinity of western expansion.