Robert Adams - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

  • Literature

    Adams, The New West: Landscapes Along the Colorado Front Range, p. 41

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1975, William Jenkins curated the groundbreaking show New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, New York. In it, he presented the work of eight budding photographers, among whom was Robert Adams, whose collective style was emphatically objective in its observation of the land. The group’s aesthetic veered from the street photography that typified the previous decade, as embodied by such stalwarts at Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. Indeed, the photographers in New Topographics shifted their emphasis from the idiosyncrasies of human beings to the remnants of human presence, and in the case of Robert Adams, its effect on the American West, with its seemingly endless sprawl of land and gradual encroachment of suburbia.

    Adams’s fastidious dedication to the American West began in the mid-1960s, when Adams, then an English teacher, was gifted a 35mm camera. Untrained but filled with intrigue at the camera’s potential, Adams began to experiment with the medium. “At our best and most fortunate,” he has stated, “we make pictures because of what stands before our camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are.” A few months into his photographic excursion, Adams discovered a full run of Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work publication at the Colorado Springs library, a serendipitous accident that would come to alter his perception of the medium’s power. “He said ‘All true things are equal,’” Adams later recalled in admiration. Just as Stieglitz, largely lauded as the patriarch of early American photography, had championed the transition from the comforts of Pictorialism to the purposeful clarity and abstraction of Modernism, Adams was likewise inspired to create a body of work that broke from convention.

    In 1975, Adams’s first monograph, The New West, was published with an introduction by John Szarkowski, then the Museum of Modern Art’s Director of Photography. The book widely diverged from previous depictions of the American West, most notably by Ansel Adams, whose images of the same region were infused with boastful monumentality and heightened drama. Robert Adams’s images, as seen in the current group of twelve works, were devoid of any such physical features of overstatement. In Berthoud, Colorado, 1976 (lot 252), the side of modestly-scaled home is transformed into a projection screen as the glow from a nearby lamppost casts the majestic, dappled shadows of a tree. The image is unassuming and contemplative, charming in its subtlety. Likewise, in Colorado Springs, 1968 (the current lot), viewers are met with an image that despite its inclusion of a person is deeply unsentimental, and the overall composition is stark and formalist, redolent of a painting by Edward Hopper, a strong inspiration on Adams.

    The twelve works included in Photographs from an Important East Coast Collection, were amassed with a deeply admiring and loving eye. The works collectively depict Adams’s commitment to effacing his own fingerprints from the final product, wishing to leave viewers to quietly meditate on the images, gently evoking awe and wonder.



Colorado Springs, Colorado

Gelatin silver print, printed 1990.
5 7/8 x 5 7/8 in. (14.9 x 14.9 cm)
Signed, titled, dated in pencil and copyright credit stamp on the verso.

$25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for $81,250

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New York Auction 1 October