About This Life


Part One: Out of Country

Searching for Depth in Bonaire
A Short Passage in Northern Hokkaido
Orchids on the Volcanoes
Informed by Indifference

Part Two: Indwelling

In a Country of Light, Among Animals
The American Geographies
Effleurage: The Stroke of Fire
The Whaleboat

Part Three: Remembrance

Replacing Memory
A Passage of the Hands
Learning to See

Part Four: An Opening Quartet


Learning to See (opening paragraphs)

In June 1989, I received a puzzling letter from the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, an invitation to speak at the opening of a retrospective of the work of Robert Adams. The show, "To Make It Home: Photographs of the American West, 1965-1985," had been organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and would travel to the Los Angeles County Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., before being installed at the Amon Carter, an institution renowned for its photographic collections, in the spring of 1990.

Robert Adams, an un-self-promoting man who has published no commercially prominent book of photographs, is routinely referred to as one of the most important landscape photographers in America, by both art critics and his colleagues. His black-and-white images are intelligently composed and morally engaged. They're also hopeful, despite their sometimes depressing subject matteróbrutalized landscapes and the venality of the American dream as revealed in suburban life. Adams doesn't hold himself apart from what he indicts. He photographs with compassion and he doesn't scold. His pictures are also accessible, to such a degree that many of them seem casual. In 1981 he published Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values, one of the clearest statements of artistic responsibility ever written by a photographer.

If there is such a thing as an ideal of stance, technique, vision, and social contribution toward which young photographers might aspire, it's embodied in this man.