Thursday, February 20, 2014

Robert Adams at Jeu De Paume, Paris

Robert Adams, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968

American photographer Robert Adams is the subject of an extensive retrospective - The Place We Live - currently showing at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. The exhibition is probably the most sweeping survey ever mounted of the 76 year old photographers work. The show presents more than 250 prints from 21 different series allowing visitors to observe Adams' career long exploration of the American West.

The West has often served as a proving ground for landscape photographers. At least since Timothy O'Sullivan's landmark geological surveys in the 1860s and 1870s, photographers from around the country and the world have gone west of the Mississippi in search of a vision of a vast, raw, countryside no longer visible in the ostensibly more civilized, urbanized corners of the Earth. From O'Sullivan's photographs to the films of John Ford, images of the West have also become a critical part of the American imaginary, a fantasy of an unconquered territory filled with opportunity and challenges fit for true heroes. In the 1960s and 1970s, photographers continued to go west and photograph what they found, but for artists like Adams the fantasy of an untrammeled land of opportunity was no longer tenable. Adams' work, as well as that of Lewis Baltz, Stephen Shore, Joe Deal and Henry Wessel, Jr, is often referred to as "New Topographics", from a 1975  George Eastman House exhibition of the same name. Their work focused on the intersection between technology and the landscape. Instead of searching for the pristine wild they sought out the altered, transformed or even damaged terrain of the modern West. Adams' work was characterized in particular by an intimacy and an emotional appeal that many of his fellow photographers assiduously avoided. Coming to photography rather later in life while working on his dissertation in Colorado, Adams was often drawn to those moments where the isolation, even loneliness of suburban life was most on display and where the harm done to the environment was most visible. At a time when the world is struggling to deal with humanity's impact on the planet, Adams' photographs are particularly poignant. This exhibition offers a unique chance to see the breadth of his lifelong attempt to picture this struggle.

Robert Adams: The Place We Live will be on view until May 18. For more information you can go to the Jeu De Paume site HERE.

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