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September 08, 2023

Acquisition: Robert Adams

Robert Adams, "Manzanita, Oregon"

Robert Adams
Manzanita, Oregon, 2004
gelatin silver print
image: 14.8 x 22.1 cm (5 13/16 x 8 11/16 in.)
sheet: 27.8 x 35.4 cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark

Over the course of his career, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has photographed a wide variety of subjects but rarely included still-lifes, until early in the 21st century. In 2004 and 2005, soon after he had completed a physically and emotionally draining project documenting the destruction of Oregon’s once pristine forests through clear-cutting, he vacationed in Manzanita, a small beach community on the Oregon coast. While there, he made several still-life pictures. A series of 16 of these photographs, entitled Still Lives at Manzanita, has been given to the National Gallery of Art by Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark.

The artist’s recently deceased parents had lived in Manzanita, and he and his wife, Kerstin, had often visited them, collecting wild strawberries in the dunes and taking long walks on the beach. When they returned in 2004 and 2005, they stayed in a modest motel where he made this suite of still-life photographs. Using fruit (probably from a local grocery store), a feather, a rock, a shell, and a few wildflowers picked on one of their walks, as well as a glass of water and two simple bowls, he created this stunning array of pictures. As he had done throughout his career, he used light to transform commonplace objects into things of simple beauty and wonder. Infused with his admiration for Paul Cézanne, these photographs reward quiet contemplation, allowing us to revel in the elegance of the natural forms, the delicacy of the shadows, and the dazzling quality of the light—even the stickers on the fruit become things of grace, firmly locating these objects in our everyday world. When he sequenced the photographs for publication, he began with a picture made at the base of the Neahkahnie Mountain where his parent’s house once stood, looking down on the empty beach. He concluded with one view looking out a window at a modest backyard and another of Kerstin and their dog Sally walking on the beach. He published them in a book, also titled Still Lives at Manzanita, acknowledging the importance of that spot on the Oregon coast while simultaneously suggesting the special quality that life assumes there—stilled, contemplative, and timeless.

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