Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Robert Adams, "L'Endroit où nous vivons" @ Jeu de Paume

Robert Adams, Longmont Colorado, 1979
Robert Adams’ photographs are about the American West, they are about space, about nothing, about silence and emptiness, the hot dry expanse of the American desert, a world where people are solitary shadows, standing like a stain on the vast open landscape. When people are in the frame, they are always alone in Adams’ phtoographs, quietly silhouetted, as if to give the merest hint at the presence of human life and activity. Even when people are full bodied, their function in the perfect composition is to emphasize the world that surrounds them, the intense heat that defines them, the space that owns them, a space opened up by a landscape that lasts forever.
Robert Adams, Pikes Peak,Colorado Springs 1969
Perhaps the most exquisite element of these photographs is the light. The silver gelatin prints capture every gradation of light, even when night has fallen. The light of the desert is then emphasized by Adams’ careful manipulation of the medium. The light is varied: it can be clear, the middle of the day, high-key, or late afternoon with long shadows cast, still cutting through the clarity of bright sunlight. At night, the pods of a circus ride light up, and the entertainment becomes an oasis in the middle of nowhere, in Longmont, Colorado, 1979. Adams also takes images in which artificial and natural light work together. In Colorado Springs neon signs, 100 watt globes and what must be the beauty of moonlight fill the night. Light in these images becomes a struggle between human and nature,, the light of a lonely, empty interior perfectly frames the space within the space of the translucent, if black, night sky. Light in all its possible variations and gradations is the subject of many of Adams’ photographs.

Robert Adams, New Development on a Former Citrus-
growing estate, Highland, California,
 Adams also manipulates light and his medium to capture the intensity of the destruction to the perfection of “the spaces where we live” when he gives them full exposure in a midday sun. In Highland California where development has begun, the landscape becomes flattened through light, a harshness that tells of what has been humanly destroyed. The devastation of the landscape is more pronounced when it sits next to the empty spaces with the shadows of low lying clouds dappling the world below, or the dignity of dirt, trees, and an untouched landscape, a landscape that is divine, proportioned, nuanced, made tactile in light. This contrast between landscapes made emotional and almost human with those that have been violated, robbed of all integrity, a contrast emphasized by Adams’ use of light is the strength of the exhibition.

There is a simplicity to this world, “the place where we live”. It is a world in which four walls = a home, a church, a movie theatre. Again, we immediately think of the same spaces in the city. The quiet, I want to say, gracious four walls in the desert represent everything they are not in the city: how complicated we make the definition of space and location when we live in the city. Here, in the desert, there is isolation everywhere and yet there is no loneliness, company is always kept by the heat, the vast open spaces, and of course, the light.
Robert Adams, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1969
It is Adams’ ability to have each space reflected and bathed in a different kind of light, his capturing by implication, of what is not in the frame, his characterization of the desert and all of its mystery in contrast to the uncessary complications and destructions of the human world, that Adams’ works are landscape photography at its most exciting. 

Images copyright Robert Adams. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francsco and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

1 comment:

Toby Lloyd-Jones said...

Wonderful photos, wonderful description.