For more than four decades Robert Adams (born 1937) has photographed the geography of the American West, finding there a beauty that endures despite our troubled relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves.
Adams’s work is distinguished not only by its economy and lucidity, but also by its mixture of grief and hope. On the one hand, his pictures acknowledge an impoverishing loss of space and silence; they record the inhumanity of much that we have built, as well as the ferocity of our attack upon the environment. On the other hand, his photographs remain alert to the startling eloquence of trees, to evidence of caring and joy, and to the redemptive power that sunlight continues to have even as it falls across suburban sprawl.
The exhibition traces the photographer’s evolving pursuit of beauty and balance amidst mankind’s increasingly tragic relationship with the natural world. In their portrayal of subjects both ordinary and grand, Adams’s austere black-and-white pictures resist simplification, rendering with delicate precision the complexities and
contradictions of contemporary American life.
Surveying each of the photographer’s major projects—most of which were originally conceived and seen as books—the exhibition begins with Adams’s early explorations of rural space, buildings, and monuments (The Plains; Late Hispanic Settlement; Ludlow) in Colorado, the state where he lived and worked from 1962 to 1997. A visit to his wife’s native Sweden in 1968 spurred Adams to recognize the significance of the insidious new urban and suburban developments being built along the Colorado Front Range. In his photographs of expanding commercial and residential structures set against a stark and glorious landscape, sunlight acts as a powerful, disinfecting force. Eden (1968), the first body of work to record this, was soon followed by The New West (1968–71) and What We Bought (1973–74)—two series that brought Adams’s work to wide acclaim.
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.
A selection of Robert Adams’ books will be on display during the exhibition and can be consulted by visitors to the exhibition at reading tables, providing the ideal opportunity to fully appreciate Adams’ masterly use of the photographic book as a poetic medium in its own right.
Exhibition and publications organized by the Yale University Art Gallery, in collaboration with Jeu de Paume for the presentation in Paris.
Practical Information :
Jeu de Paume
1, place de la Concorde – 75008 Paris
Information: 01 47 03 12 50
Hours : Tuesday: 11am – 9pm / Wednesday – Sunday: 11am – 7pm / Closed Monday, including public holidays.
Exhibition until 18 May 2014