Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gone? by Robert Adams

If there is a single notion that links several of Robert Adams's recent books, it is that of walking. Of course walking with a camera slung over shoulder or around our necks is usually the case with any photographer but how many make 'the walk' felt in their pictures?

Anyone who knows Robert Adams' photographs is aware of he is a steadfast conservationist. He also seems to be a pessimist pining to turn back time so we as a world, could chart the right course in regard to our treatment of our surroundings. His new book Gone? is a walk through the landscape of his home region of Colorado made in the mid-1980s where a balance seems to have been struck between civilization and nature.

Adams starts us off within a suburban development where foliage on the tree-lined streets dwarfs the homes and cars of the residents. His vantage point is of a pedestrian, looking forward, our path clearly laid by the road ahead stretching off into the distance. On our periphery, things get our attention; an alder in a yard, some small brush scrub in an undeveloped lot, and most dramatically, the sky of a near perfect afternoon.

Within several pictures we have moved away from civilization and into the hills discovering streams and secluded spots that feel relatively untouched. Here Adams basks in the sunlight allowing his lens to be flared - a reminder that a living being is behind this point of view and not simply a recording device.

His 35mm multiple frames - sometimes slight variants of the same picture - 'walk' us through the book which is a strategy of bookmaking he explored in Listening to the River. Adams writes in a brief statement about the work, "In middle age I revisited a number of marginal but beautiful landscapes that I have taken for granted when I was a boy. As I walked through them I sometimes asked myself whether in the coming years they would survive overpopulation, corporate capitalism, and new technology. On those days when I was lucky, however, my questions fell away into the quiet and the light."

There is a comfortable loneliness about the pictures as if all one would hear is a slight breeze and the repetitive footfalls on loose soil. Towards the end of the book we return to the outskirts of town - our trance shaken but perhaps calmed by the presence of a white steepled church. The last triptych stretches the road in front of us in a straight line towards a far away tree dominating the horizon. Within the three pictures, our progress feels slowed, perhaps we are just exhausted or maybe intentionally dragging our heals perhaps to avoid the inevitable return to those disturbing questions of where we are going.

Gone? was published by Steidl and is one of three recent Adams books including Summer Nights, Walking by Aperture and Tree Line which celebrates Adams winning the 2009 Hasselblad Award.