PARIS, FRANCE.- Robert Adams’ first solo exhibition in France is presented at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain through to January 27, 2008. Conceived entirely by him and inspired by his current concerns, this show provides a rare opportunity to discover an artist known for his devotion to the western American landscape. Entitled On the Edge, it showcases approximately one hundred and fifty photographs that reflect both devastating and hopeful visions of the environment from three separate but related series: West from the Columbia (1990-1992), Time Passes (1990-1992), and Turning Back (1999-2003). A look back at his distinguished career via the remarkable publications that have accompanied his photographs since 1970 invites visitors to delve into his lesser-known passion for books as an equally important artistic medium.
Robert Adams was born in 1937 in Orange, New Jersey and currently lives in Astoria, Oregon. After earning a PhD in English literature and teaching the subject at the college level for almost ten years, he became a photographer in the late 1960s. While human figures are often absent from his images of both urban and rural landscapes in the American West, their influence upon the environment has a glaring presence: a billboard mounted on a tree-covered hill, construction of suburban housing projects, graffiti disturbing an otherwise serene desert view, or the consequences of “clear-cutting,” a practice of quickly and completely cutting down forests. These insightful and sensitive, yet critical and political observations have earned him such prestigious awards as the Spectrum International Prize for Photography and the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. He has also won fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts. Robert Adams has participated in numerous group shows and has been included in solo exhibitions at institutions worldwide. He was chosen as the subject for a major retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1989. In addition to the many books devoted to his photographs, Robert Adams has also written two influential theoretical works entitled Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defence of Traditional Values (1981) and Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews (1994), and has published a collection of interviews in Along Some Rivers (2006).
The photography component of On the Edge is constructed around Robert Adams’ views of the landscape surrounding him while looking eastward and westward from his home situated on the west coast of the United States. He is intrigued by the thought that “if we face eastward we confront the remains of what was, until we destroyed it, one of the world’s great rain forests, while if we face westward we contemplate the open sea, not itself unharmed but still beautiful and carrying with it, as all beauty does, a suggestion of promise.” The unique juxtaposition of these closely-tied yet geographically opposed visions provokes contemplation of questions raised by the artist himself: “Are we free to do as we wish? Are we held accountable for the results? Might we be forgiven?”
When aimed toward the west, his camera captured the series West from the Columbia and Time Passes, the latter of which borrows its title from a chapter in Virginia Woolf’s classic To the Lighthouse. Hypnotic and hopeful ocean scenes made in the early 1990s seem to declare rebirth and redemption, while the soothing waves offer to carry one away to another time and another place. When Adams turned east, however, the Turning Back series, made from 1999 to 2003, was born. A study of deforestation that starkly contrasts the serenity of its counterpart, these photographs allow visitors to witness the American West’s rapidly disappearing forests. Robert Adams explains that “the practice of industrial forestry has been and continues to be to strip the land almost bare, a method of attack known as ‘clear-cutting.’. . .Historical evidence from around the world suggests that clear-cutting will eventually result in the exhaustion of the soil, in deforestation, and in climate change.” Selected personally by Adams to be presented at the Fondation Cartier together, these series most accurately illustrate the thoughts and scenes that currently plague and motivate him.
The over forty books presented in On the Edge comprehensively trace the very personal and direct manner in which Robert Adams has dealt with the fear, curiosity, and inspiration that the changing American landscape has stirred in him since the late 1960s. The care and attention accorded to each one reveals the privileged place he accords to the medium in general—each book is an objet d’art and stands on its own as a valuable form of artistic expression. This complete collection of publications, many of which are limited editions and collector’s items, is brought together at the Fondation Cartier for the first time in an exhibition setting.
A book imagined by Robert Adams on the occasion of this exhibition features the thirty-two photographs that compose the Time Passes series, published here for the first time. The Fondation Cartier is also pleased to offer En longeant quelques rivières, the first French translation of Along Some Rivers, a collection of insightful exchanges between Robert Adams and various interviewers including art historians, curators, photographers, students, writers, and professors that was originally edited by Aperture in 2006.