by alyssa bozekowski

Being out in Colorado I have found inspiration in Robert Adams work and through searching for ideas and thoughts I have found endless knowledge/entertainment through the many articles posted on AmericanSuburbX

They have posted one about Robert Adams work entitled “Perfect Uncertainty – Robert Adams and the American West” this article was archived from Art in America, March, 2002 by Leo Rubinfien. I really enjoyed this piece about Adams work even though my own work doesn’t correspond to many of Adams thoughts and ideas, but having grown up within the suburbs of Littleton, Colorado these thoughts all become very fascinating to me because I did not grow up during that time period as well as sharing similar thoughts on beauty and the ‘American West.’ My interests are with the start of this country and the history of the Native American tribes and cultures and current issues and injustices. As I try and figure out how to sustain being a working photographer reading this article has helped me understand his own work and how people have viewed it and how the work has been influential. I’m also still searching for ideas on how to communicate my own work.

“….’The sons of civilization, drawn by the fascinations of a fresher and bolder life, thronged to the western wilds in multitudes which blighted the charm that had lured them…. The buffalo is gone; … the wolves … have succumbed to arsenic; the wild Indian is turned into an ugly caricature of his conqueror; … the all-daring and all-enduring trapper belongs to the past…. In his stem we have the cowboy, and even his star begins to wane.’

Turner regretted not just the loss of the open country but, even more, of those human qualities–“coarseness … strength … acuteness … inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind …; that masterful grasp of material things …; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism …; that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom” – that were the product of the frontier. They had been traded for what Parkman called the “irresistible commonplace,” which is still as good an expression as there is for the Arvada, Aurora and Lakewood of Adams’s photographs, and countless new towns around America whose names, as Adams observes, have been contrived from euphemistic elements like “glen” and “green” whether or not hills or forests were ever found in their parts of the country.”

I agree with this quote and feel in awe because when looking at Adam’s photographs I can read this from those images, that he is placing commentary on the growth of civilization and the things we ‘keep’ and make apart of our new life with cement and plastic. Reading through the article Leo Rubinfien states that ‘his pictures are usually to measure the extent of the human, to ask how far have we gone? How much has been lost?’ I have found myself asking the same questions and admire Adams for addressing these ideas in such beautiful and solemn documentary ways.

I am just going to throw quotes from the article in here that I found inspirational:

“Whitman follows directly from Emerson with a glorious paean to the transcontinental railroad, the “passage to India”:

… seest thou not God’s purpose from the first?
The earth to be spann’d, connected by network …
The lands to be welded together.
A worship new I sing
You captains, voyagers, explorers, yours
You engineers, you architects, machinists, yours
You, not for trade or transportation only
But in God’s name, and for thy sake O soul.

“It is a paradox of Adams’s work that what he eloquently says in his essays and book texts, and in conversation, is not exactly the same as what his photographs say. For him, the ruination of the western country has been painful, and he has put this into despairing words again and again, with force. His pictures, however, almost always stand carefully back. Unmitigated damage is not usually their central subject, any more than unharmed nature”

I enjoy his work even more knowing that his photographs are quite and not screaming with a message and find it even more rewarding to have to hold the book and delve into his words to reach his extensive thoughts on the American West.

“Were it so that a man on arising each morning was assailed by demons which instilled in him a passion sometimes for silk shirts, sometimes for kitchenware, sometimes for chamber pots and sometimes for orange squash, there would be every reason to applaud the effort to find the goods, however odd, that quenched this flame. But should it be that his passion was the result of his first having cultivated the demons … there would be question as to [whether] the solution lay with more goods or fewer demons. Production only fills a void that it has itself created.” A Great quote!

“The family which takes its … air-conditioned, power-steered and power-braked automobile out for a tour passes through cities that are … made hideous by litter, blighted buildings, billboards and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground, [and] on into a countryside … rendered largely invisible by commercial art…. They picnic on … packaged food … by a polluted stream and [doze] off on an air mattress, beneath a nylon tent, amid the stench of … refuse.”

“It is a further paradox that, although Adams might have tried to organize his efforts as a photographer to be of practical help to those people who work, professionally, to prevent the further despoilment of the American West, he has not done so. His pictures have never been anything but art, the purposes of which, in the modern period, have always been difficult to define. On the slippery question of the utility of art, he argued recently, “You give people courage. That’s useful,” and indeed his pictures are contrived to minister to the spirit. It is fascinating to learn that in the ’50s, as a very young man, he was drawn for a short time to office in the Methodist church, and although he insists that he didn’t know anything then, he went as far as obtaining a Local Preacher’s License before he turned away from the metaphysical and toward the artist’s world of tangible things.

If I was right that in the rationalistic America of the last half century we have had no one name for God that most people can share, we nonetheless retain from the time of Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman and Kensett a belief in the holiness of nature.” I think he brought up a very interesting point and that is this shared idea that nature is for most of us a religious experience/view. How Adams photographs he shows us what nature is, what has become of nature, or our new fake nature. He is somehow displaying these ‘holy places’ and engaging a conversation in how we still view nature and asking the question is it still a religious, beautiful thing to most of us? Or are we happy with how is it is altering?

“I wondered then why a man with a tragic sense of life, as he describes himself, would choose a medium by which the tragic causes cannot be defined, nor their effects followed out. I would like to guess that, in Adams’s case, it is just because a strong photograph is so very ambiguous, so very open-ended–because it affords its maker neither the Sophoclean catharsis nor the melodrama’s happy ending. Must we think that the incomplete story that a photograph tells is weak for its incompleteness, or is it possible that the incompleteness is an essential part of the story–that we cannot know the meanings of our actions, or predict their outcomes, as well as the artist would like? Is it not possible that Adams has chosen to lay form very lightly upon the world exactly because this is the truest way he knows of speaking about it, because we cannot know whether we will come to a good end or a bad, or even know how much we know?”

please see the full article, I cannot do justice