Today’s photographer I do not know and I had never even heard of him. It’s nice to see a more contemporary name pop up on the list, something that seems to become a rare occasion.

Robert Adams was born on the 8th of May, 1937 in Orange, New Jersey, and briefly lived in Madison, Wisconsin before moving to Wheat Ridge, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, in 1950. As a child he developed chronic bronchial problems, and part of the reason his family moved to Colorado was to help alleviate those problems. At age 11 he was struck with polio in his back, left arm, and hand but was able to recover. He has one younger sister, named Caroline.

In 1959, Adams enrolled in the University of Colorado, Boulder for his freshman year, but decided to transfer the next year to the University of Redlands in California. He received his B.A. in English from Redlands in 1959, and then went on to USC for his postgraduate study in English, from which he received his Ph.D. in English in 1965. In 1960, he married Kerstin Mornestam, originally from Sweden, whom he had met at Redlands. In 1962 they moved back to Colorado, and Adams began teaching at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. In 1963, he bought a 35mm camera and began to photograph.

Adams became interested in documenting how the western landscapes of North America, once captured by the likes of Timothy O’Sullivan and William Henry Jackson, had been shaped by human influence. As part of the New Topographics in the 1970s, Adams approach to photographing these landscapes was to take a stance of apparent neutrality, refraining from any obvious judgements of the subject matter. His images are titled as documents, to establish his neutral position. Adams’ essays in Why People Photograph and Beauty in Photography make strong arguments for conservative and human approaches to making photography, writing clear criticism about photography, and the importance of encouraging responsible stewardship of the land.

For about five years, beginning in 1974, Adams embarked on an experiment: he made a series of photographs at night—the opposite of the high-altitude daylight used in most of his previous photographs. The project brought an element of risk he had not experienced before. Passing motorists sometimes veered toward him on rural roadsides, and in urban centres police repeatedly questioned him about his activities.

Adams’ was a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in photography in 1973 and 1980, and he received the MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Fellowship in 1994. In 2009, he received the Hasselblad Award for his achievements in photography.He is represented by the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco and the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. His archives are held at the Yale University Art Gallery, with which he is devising a large-scale retrospective of his work for touring around the USA.


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