The exhibition “Robert Adams: The Place We Live“ reflects Adams’ longstanding interest in tragic relationship between man and nature and his quest to find redeeming light and beauty in a deteriorating landscape. His photographs are distinguished not only by their economy and lucidity, but also by their mixture of grief and hope. With more than two hundred and fifty pictures chosen from twenty–one distinct series, this retrospective presents for the very first time the diverse aspects of his epic body of work. Edited and sequenced with input from the photographer himself, the exhibition offers not only an intimate and coherent narrative of the development of the Western United States in the late 20th and early 21st century, but also a challenging view of the complexity and contradictions of our contemporary, global society.
In his work, Robert Adams shows how the grand landscapes of the American West, documented in the 19th century by such photographers as Timothy O’Sullivan and William Henry Jackson, have been altered by human activity. Adams has attempted to remain apparently neutral in his approach; even the titles of his works convey a documentary feel. Above all, Adams renowned for his nuanced and austere photos of urban development in the state of Colorado at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s: images that came to the public eye for the first time in the groundbreaking book, The New West (1974).
Through his work, Adams puts forward a compelling case in defense of a humanist approach to photography, as well as an exhortation to his fellow man to consider what is being done to our collective habitat. His remarkable pictures are often underestimated and yet they never oversimplify their subjects. Whether banal or glorious, his images accurately portray the complexity and the contradictions of modern life. Taken as a whole, the photographs in this exhibition highlight the photographer’s commitment to present the wealth of beauty in our natural surroundings and to underscore our obligation as citizens to protect our environment, not only in the American West, but in the broader world.
The small size of his exacting, handmade prints (many of which are as small as 15x15 cm) reward close looking by visitors, even an intimate, contemplative involvement. Indeed it is through Adams’ publications — over forty monographs in all — that his body of work has exerted the greatest influence. The creation of these volumes have been an indispensable component of his artistic practice. A selection of Robert Adams’ books are on display during the exhibition and can be consulted by visitors to the exhibition at reading tables, allowing the viewer to appreciate Adams’ masterly use of the photographic book as a poetic medium in its own right.
Editor's Note: The exhibition will be showing at the Jeu de Paume from February 11 to May 18, 2014.