Robert Adams, Questions for an Overcast Day

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2007 by Matthew Marks Gallery and Fraenkel Gallery. Approximately 10×8 in size, with 74 pages, including 33 black and white images. A thin title strip is held around the book by a transparent sticker. (Cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: One of the things I admire most about the art of Robert Adams is that he has in his years as a photographer found a way to simultaneously pursue both challenging bodies of work that ask us hard questions about how we are interacting with the natural world around us, as well as smaller, more intimate projects that come at some of these same questions, but from a simpler, more lyrical and less overtly polemical bent. While The New West, Summer Nights and Los Angeles Spring all might be more well known, many of my favorite books by Adams are smaller volumes (some of them essays) that weren’t necessarily designed with large audiences in mind, but seem to have sprung from a genuine desire to dig deeper into the subtle relationships between photography, humans and nature.

This small book is a series of pictures Adams took of the leaves of alder trees on the Oregon coast, some from far off, others from up close. These particular leaves are often broken and torn, with holes and cracks, and Adams uses the bright background light filtering through these openings as a contrast with the dark black of the leaves. One might wonder how can Adams make pictures of tree leaves that are somehow new and different, rather than simply well crafted images derivative of others we have seen before. And yet, this is exactly what he has accomplished, especially via the sequencing of the images in book form, allowing for a gradual closing in from multiple branches to a single leaf, creating a multi-image portrait of the essence of these trees.

The only text in the book is the following set of questions, found near the end:

What would account for the condition of the leaves – drought, insects, rocky ground, disease, herbicide, wind?

Are the leaves beautiful?

Is there something wry in the hieroglyphics? And something humorous about a person taking photographs, the camera hand-held, between gusts of wind?

These questions seem perfectly attuned to the emotional quality of these images: serene and calm, simple and authentic, curious and open minded. This is the kind of book that you can pull down from the shelf from time to time, flip through, and find some balance.

Collector’s POV: Robert Adams is represented by Matthew Marks Gallery in New York (here) and Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco (here). Prints by Adams have become increasingly popular in recent years, and his images are now generally available at auction, ranging in price between $5000 and $50000 in the past few years. For our particular collection, Adams continues to be on our wish list; we are still looking for just the right Adams image for the city/industrial group. This excellent book reminded me that we should also consider Adams for our floral/plant genre, as the leaf silhouettes here would mix nicely with other botanicals we already own.

Transit Hub:

  • 2009 Hasselblad Award winner (here)
  • Art:21 biography (here)
  • Landscapes of Harmony and Dissonance, Getty Museum, 2006 (here)
  • Turning Back, SFMOMA, 2006 (here)

Robert Adams, Fraenkel Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Ray Mortenson, Rocks: Diptychs, Panels and Details @L. Parker Stephenson

Ray Mortenson, Rocks: Diptychs, Panels and Details @L. Parker Stephenson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 black and white photographic works, framed in grey and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the ... Read on.

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter