For Anyone on Your List Who Knows the Difference Between Pretty and Beautiful
The first word that comes to mind when thinking of the work of photographer Robert Adams is “quiet.” There are other, more poetic and highfalutin words, such as “sublime,” that might do equally well, but quiet seems to fit the subject better. This 74-year-old artist has spent his life photographing mostly the American West and Northwest, and most of that time he’s spent outdoors. The results have been collected by Yale University Press in a variety of formats designed for every budget, from three affordable paperbacks (This Day, Sea Stories, and a revised and expanded reprint of a singular masterpiece, Prairie) to a glorious boxed retrospective in three hardback volumes, The Place We Live: A Retrospective Selection of Photographs, 1964-2009. Supremely uninterested in the merely pretty, and avoiding the grandiosity of Ansel Adams and the epic reach of Carleton Watkins, Adams has aimed unerringly for a smaller, more intimate scale: the light on leaves in a forest, a bowl of fruit on a kitchen table, the scumble of marine life washed up on a beach. It doesn’t sound like much, set down in words, but gaze upon an Adams photograph and the world around you falls away, your whole being settles down, until all you can see, all you want to see, is the crystalline image before you, shot and printed with an exquisite understanding of tonal values and compositional balance.