Robert Adams - Reframing Beauty: A Private Seattle Collection New York Thursday, October 7, 2021 | Phillips
  • "At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands before our camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect—a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known."
    —Robert Adams

    In his landscapes, seascapes and photographs of suburban expansion, Robert Adams presents images that are at once documents of the beauty of the natural world and reflections on the human role in its transformation. His work may be seen as a branch of social documentary photography. Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange were noted influences, but while their work relied on people to convey the emotional weight of their circumstances, Adams’ photographs rarely do so. Instead, human presence is felt via its trace on the world—the light that lingers on in the house (lot 2) or the citrus grove that has been cleared for new development (lot 5)—and his message is carried via the universal, rather than the personal.


    In Southwest from the South Jetty, Clatsop County, Oregon, Adams’ five-panel polyptych of the ebb and flow of the sea off the northwestern coast, Adams bears witness to the passage of time. It is a meditative study on the persistence and power of the natural world and the inevitability that with each passing moment comes change. This suite of photographs demonstrates the photographer’s remarkable skill in the darkroom with the tonality of each print perfectly balanced to create a cohesive and impressive whole. Other examples of this polyptych are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. This is the first to appear at auction.

    Adams’ work is represented extensively throughout this collection and provides a concise retrospective with 18 photographs taken between 1968 and 2003. From the earliest image in the collection, Along Interstate 25, Eden, Colorado (lot 14), which juxtaposes a gas station and telephone lines with a sublime mountain backdrop, to the most recent, Sitka Spruce, Cape Blanco State Park, Curry County, Oregon (lot 18), a perfectly framed image of the towering yet decimated tree, we see the full range of his work, work that is even more powerful and telling when seen in the abundance this collection presents. While rife with meaning, his work is never dogmatic, and he always leads with the beauty he finds before him, be it the oncoming headlights on a strip of highway in Colorado (lot 1) or the airplane flying above a protected habitat in California with all of its biodiversity in full view (lot 29).

    • Provenance

      Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

    • Exhibited

      Reinventing the West, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, 2 January - 25 March 2001

    • Literature

      Yale University Press, Robert Adams: The Place We Live, Volume Two, pp. 104-108
      Greenough, American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams, p. 55 for a single print

Reframing Beauty: A Private Seattle Collection


Southwest from the South Jetty, Clatsop County, Oregon

Gelatin silver print polyptych in five parts, printed 1995.
Each 9 x 11 1/4 in. (22.9 x 28.6 cm)
Overall 15 3/4 x 96 1/2 in. (40 x 245.1 cm)

Each signed, titled, dated, sequentially lettered 'A - E' and copyright notation in pencil on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $63,000

Contact Specialist

Caroline Deck
Senior Specialist
+1 212 940 1247


Vanessa Hallett
Deputy Chairwoman, Americas and Worldwide Head of Photographs
+1 212 940 1243

Reframing Beauty: A Private Seattle Collection

New York Auction 7 October 2021