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Robert Adams in "Ecology"

While living in Colorado Springs, Robert Adams began to capture black and white photographs of a burgeoning suburban strip–highways and tract houses that marred a dramatic landscape–a development that he loathed. Yet when Adams examined the images in his darkroom, he recognized for the first time the beauty within these pictures.

“The final strength in really great photographs is that they suggest more than just what they show literally,” says Adams. Working closely with his wife, Adams created Turning Back (1999-2003), which illustrates deforestation in the West, a practice that Adams describes as “not just a matter of exhaustion of resources. I do think there is involved an exhaustion of spirit.”

More information and credits


Created by: Susan Sollins & Susan Dowling. Executive Producer & Curator: Susan Sollins. Series Producer: Eve-Laure Moros Ortega. Associate Producer: Migs Wright. Associate Curator: Wesley Miller. Production Manager: Alice Bertoni & Nick Ravich. Production Coordinator: Amanda Donnan & Meredith Klein. Consulting Director: Catherine Tatge. Editor: Steven Wechsler. Director of Photography: Bob Elfstrom, Mark Falstad, Mead Hunt, & Joel Shapiro. Additional Photography: Christine Burrill, Alice Bertoni, & John Gordon Hill. Sound: Tom Bergin, Ray Day, Doug Dunderdale, Heidi Hesse, Mark Mandler, Gabriel Monts, Roger Phenix, Yuri Raicin, & Charles Tomaras. Audio Technician: Drew Weir. Assistant Camera: Craig Feldman & Brian Hwang. Jib Arm Operator: Scott Hoffman. Production Assistant: Carlos Moncada & David Nugent. Additional Animation: Shawn Dunbar.

Creative Consultant: Ed Sherin. Art Direction & Design: Open, New York. On-Line Editor: Don Wyllie. Composer: Peter Foley. Voice-Over Artist: Jace Alexander. Sound Editing: Margaret Crimmins & Greg Smith. Sound Mix: Cory Melious & Tony Volante. Animation Stand: Frank Ferrigno. Assistant Editor: Ahmed Amer, Jennifer Chiurco, & George Panos.

Director of Education & Public Programs: Tana Hargest. Education Consultant: Jessica Hamlin. Manager of Public Programs & Outreach: Kelly Shindler. Web Producer: Ana Otero. Senior Development Officer: Beth Allen. Development Associate: Sara Simonson. Development Coordinator: Erin Cesta & Katherine Payne.

Artworks Courtesy of: Robert Adams; Mark Dion; Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle; Ursula von Rydingsvard; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; Galerie Lelong, New York; Matthew Marks Gallery, New York; Max Protetch, New York; Seattle Art Museum; & Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Archival Footage Courtesy of: Ursula Anne von Rydingsvard.

Special Thanks: Mark Hereld; Rick Gribenas; Kerstin Adams; ADM Works, Los Angeles; Angela Andres; The Art21 Board of Trustees; James Barber; Vanessa Bergonzoli; Callen Blair; Bloomberg; Josie Browne; Daniel Cheek; Tyler Cufley; Stuart Desmond; Renee Devine; Dog Bark Sound; Kris Douglas; Michael Finn; Frame:Runner NYC; Jules Gaffney; Gina Glascock-Broze; Green River Watershed, King County, WA; Rick Gribenas; Tamara Gubernat; Anthony Guzzone; Anneka Herre; Mark Herald; Todd Holmes; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Stephanie Joson; Bryan King; Meredith Klein; Cristobal Lehyt; Sheila Lynch; Mad. Sq. Art; Anna Miller; J. Morgan Pruett; Julia Murray; Brandon Noble; Jeffrey Peabody; Allison Peters; Eli Ping; J. Morgan Pruett; Andre Ribuoli; Rochester Art Center, Rochester, MN; Seattle Art Museum and Olympic Sculpture Park; Sound Lounge; Dawn Troy; Christina Turley; U.S. General Service Administration; Vagabond Audio; & Javier Valdivieso.

Interns: Stephanie Abraitis, Alex Agnant, Gabriella della Croce, Nora Herting, Milena Hoegsberg, Rives Kitchell, Katie McCurry, Simone Otenaike, Karoline Pfeiffer, Nick Pozek, Carolina Puente, Muña Qamar, Bettina Riccio Henry, Meg Scally, Karen Seapker, Peter Sebeckis, Lucy Strong, & Kelly Williamson.

Public Relations: Goodman Media International. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Albert Gottesman. Bookkeeper: Marea Alverio-Chaveco & Valerie Riley. Travel Agent: Lita Gottesman.

Major underwriting for Season 4 of Art in the Twenty-First Century is provided by National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Bloomberg, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Bagley Wright Fund, and W.L.S. Spencer Foundation.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Robert Adams

Robert Adams’ refined black-and-white photographs document scenes of the American West of the past four decades, revealing the impact of human activity on the last vestiges of wilderness and open space. Although often devoid of human subjects, or sparsely populated, Adams’s photographs capture the physical traces of human life: a garbage-strewn roadside, a clear-cut forest, a half-built house. An underlying tension in Adams’s body of work is the contradiction between landscapes visibly transformed or scarred by human presence and the inherent beauty of light and land rendered by the camera.

“The effort is to find that perfectly balanced frame where everything fits. It’s not exactly the same as life, it’s life seen better.”

Robert Adams

Robert Adams

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Robert Adams

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Robert Adams

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Robert Adams

What metaphors that relate to humanity and the natural world do artists explore?


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Photography, Life, and Beauty

Robert Adams discusses his personal motivations for art-making, as well as his own understanding of beauty and the purpose of art.