I was lucky enough to go to Paris on a photography trip, that me and three other photographers arranged, this Easter break. The experience was absolutely amazing and I loved every minute of the trip; whilst we were there we visited the Jeu de Paume Gallery, exhibiting a wide range of Robert Adams’ work.
The exhibition was very large, containing a wide portfolio of Adams’ work, there were many different smaller bodies of work and different projects. It was a lot to take in with so many images, however I felt the exhibition was set up well, the groups and projects are divided up and separated from each other making it clearer as to which images go together. Furthermore, the projects and groups were often accompanied by text, giving the viewer greater insight and information on that section of work, this made reading and understanding the images a lot easier, as it gave context to them. These small texts, taken from Adams’ writing, guide the viewer through the exhibition.
The small sizes of his prints encourage close looking by the viewer, making the viewing experience intimate and contemplative. A selection of Robert Adams’ books accompany his photographs in the exhibition, and are on display allowing viewers to consult them, providing the ideal opportunity to fully appreciate Adams’ masterly use of the photographic book and to further aid the viewing experience.
In his work, Robert Adams shows the grand landscapes of the American West, documented in the 19th century by photographers such as Timothy O’Sullivan; Adams looks at how these landscapes have been altered by human activity. Adams has attempted to remain apparently neutral on his opinions on the effects humans have had on the landscape. I feel to some extent that Adams’ work links to my current project on Human Presence, he is documenting the impact humans have had on the land, how they have shaped the landscape, often without having to show humans in his photographs.
These human effects on the land, shown in Adams’ photographs, differ in how noticeable they are, some are obvious where as others are more subtle, however the human presence is still there. I feel this is showing the idea that no matter where you look human presence is all around, even though it may not always be obvious.
One photograph that I thought linked well to my project on Human Presence and one of my ideas specifically was Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado, 1972; this photograph shows a gravestone, showing information on a person who has died. It links to my idea, as this gravestone is the remains of a human, their presence in the world is represented by this gravestone; I want to go out and take my own photographs on graves as they represent people and their life. I also want to challenge the idea that do they truly represent people, they only give brief detail about a person, can you gain enough detail and an idea about a given person from a single gravestone? Does the size, shape and detail on the gravestone give any clues about a person? I really like this idea to explore and so I want to go out and take photographs of gravestones, taking influence from Adams, and his clear detail and framing, making sure all the detail is clear.
In this photograph by Adams, he had clear detail showing the information on the gravestone clearly. The shape and writing give slight clues on the person; from this gravestone I believe that the person was related to and involved in farming due to the sheep carved at the top of the gravestone. The fact that they died young, from the dates on the gravestone, I feel that the lamb is representing this and the idea of youth as if they were older it would’ve been a sheep.
In the set of images from Colorado, Adams shows the process and changes to the land; this is very visual and clear, showing how humans have had an effect on the land. The human presence is the changes and construction of these buildings on the land. I feel that these photographs are also showing the scale of the change and how much humans have affected the landscape. As well as showing human presence in the existence and construction of these buildings, I feel that this set of photographs is strong as it shows the changes over a period of time in a very simple yet obvious way, it is clear to the viewer what is happening, showing enough detail, however they are all still beautiful photographs with good framing and visual quality.
I could take influence in my own work from Adams and his use of time, he allows his photographs to tell a story and show the progress over a period of time; in my own work I could look at this idea of time, possibly with my idea to do with long exposures of car lights. I would be showing the progress of these cars over a period of time, however they would be contained in one photograph rather than a series like Adams.
Continuing on from this idea of time, Adams’ photographs Ludlow show the remains of a small coal-mining community named Ludlow—three abandoned shacks and a monument put up by the United Mine Workers. The photographs represent the people who used to live there and are in memory of them. These also link to my idea of long exposures to show the path of cars, each path represents the journey and past of where each person had been, showing the idea of human presence through the idea of memory and the past.
The photograph, On the road … Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1969, I feel relates to my idea of locations showing human presence without people being in the photograph. This photograph shows an empty gas station, which has been designed, built and run by humans, showing the human presence. The lack of humans allows the viewer to appreciate the structure, the light highlighting the detail of it; however the building represents the livelihood and lifestyle of people and I like this idea. I think I will develop on this idea and go out and take my own photographs of buildings, such as gas stations and shops, when they are empty to show the ideas of how these are people’s lives, and this building represents their human presence and lifestyle.
In this photograph I feel the lighting is dramatic, with wide contrast between the light and dark areas, this makes the photograph more visually interesting and also adds impact to the whole image. Many people wouldn’t often think to take photographs of gas stations, they would think of them as boring, however I feel that Adams has made this photograph visually interesting by the lines and shapes created by the content, such as the building and the mountain range behind, as well as the lighting that adds shadow and tone to the photograph.
Another set of photographs, from the collection Along Some Rivers, that stood out to me was a set of four photographs, I felt they were showing the same road, however they were taken at four different angles. I feel that they were taken at the top and bottom of the road at both sides of the road; I feel this is an interesting way to show the road and makes the viewer think about what they are seeing as at first they could think they are seeing four different roads. The combination of this set and other sets also showing different places, such as fields, or objects, such as trees, from different angles and viewpoints is unusual and all come together to give the viewer greater understanding and a clue to what they are seeing. I feel that by having the whole collection to see is important as it allows greater understanding on the photographs, as I feel on their own, one single set, it would be harder to tell what Adams is trying to show.
I personally feel that Adams often addressed environmental issues, such as deforestation and the destruction of forests for places to live and to build on. This can be seen as showing the effect humans are having on the land whether it be negative or positive, that is for the viewer to decide, Adams addresses it in a very impartial way, just documenting what is happening to the land.
Overall I feel that Adams shows a wide body of work, addressing different issues and looking at different subjects. I love his work and I can use this as influence in my current project and other future projects.