New Topographics: Robert Adams

I've been looking for books at the library by the 10 photographers associated with the New Topographics. Recently I checked out From the Missouri West by Robert Adams. This Aperture book from 1980 is out of print, but can usually be picked up used for a reasonable price. The copy I got from the library was inscribed:

1981 -- Happy Birthday Mom, Love Bob


Happy Birthday Grandma, Love Jesse

I can't help but wonder if Bob and Jesse would have been better off giving their loved ones an Ansel Adams book. Anyhow, this is a quiet book of black and white images that shows the effects of man on the landscape. A personal meditation on what was a frontier not so long ago. The sky is typically blank. The images eschew the snappy contrast of the Zone System. There is a little bit of text on the inside flap, 59 images laid out one per page. A single page of captions at the end lists the photo locations, and in a few cases an important detail:

51. Orange trees, burned palm, and overturned smudge pot, Highlands, California

52. Clear-cut and burned, east of Arch Cape, Oregon

Following the caption page is a one page statement by Adams about the photos. This layout is really perfect -- a little bit of food for your brain up front, the images, and just a little more info at the end. Nothing is spelled out for you, but there are enough clues to encourage your own meditations about what these images mean.

These aren't singular images that necessarily will knock you out, but as a body of work they definitely have a style and resonance that is worth some pondering. Pick it up at your local library and let me know what you think.

Update: There's a great article about Adams online from Jonathan Green's book American Photography.

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