Overview

For more than 40 years, the distinguished photographer Robert Adams has recorded the changing American landscape, revealing both its sublime beauty and its wanton destruction. Like his 19th-century predecessors, such as Timothy O'Sullivan, he has chronicled the ongoing settlement of the American West, especially Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington. Yet unlike those earlier photographers, he has recorded the freeways, strip malls, parking lots, billboards, and tract houses that have utterly transformed the landscape in the last 50 years, as well as the abandoned orange groves of Southern California and the despoiled forests of the Northwest. In addition, he has turned his camera on the citizens of this New West, photographing young children who grew up in the shadow of nuclear weapons plants, as well as parents and grandparents who were often isolated from one another and nature itself by the very modern conveniences they coveted.

Yet Adams' work is no diatribe and often records the beauty that remains—indeed, refuses to die—in the magnificent light of the high plains, for example, or the graceful form of the earth itself. He is convinced, as he wrote in 1974, that "all land, no matter what has happened to it, has over it a grace, an absolutely persistent beauty." Combining hope and despair, joy and grief, his lucid but passionate photographs are profound and provocative records of this time and place.

Born in New Jersey, raised in Wisconsin and Colorado, Adams received a PhD in English literature and turned to photography in 1963, at the age of 26. With encouragement from the renowned curator John Szarkowski, Adams abandoned his career as an English professor in 1970 and devoted himself to photography. A gifted writer with a deep fascination for books of photographs, Adams first achieved acclaim in 1974 with the publication of The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range, one of the first books of photographs to present a more critical view of the American West. This book was soon followed by 15 more, most recently Questions for an Overcast Day (2009). In addition to numerous exhibitions at major museums around the world, Adams has been honored with many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Hasselblad Award for Distinguished Photographer, and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Recently, the Gallery acquired 169 photographs by Adams. This collection is truly exceptional and unique, for the artist himself carefully selected it to complement the 25 works by him already in the Gallery's collection. Together they represent what he considers to be his most important accomplishments. The new acquisition includes key photographs from each of his 16 books, as well as 16 other photographs from throughout his career. A modest man with deeply held convictions, Adams believes "these photographs can tell Americans something they might want to know about their country."

Inscription

on verso, signed by artist, lower right in graphite: Robert Adams; by unknown hand, lower left in graphite: print c 1977 Ra RA 4273.Y [crossed out: RA 3733.Y (0)] / Adams - Prairie - Plate 17

Provenance

Robert Adams, Astoria, OR; NGA purchase (through Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco) and gift, 2012.