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As a young photographer (long ago), someone once told me that I should be able to name ten photographers who’s work I admire.  I recently sat down to write a list of the ten photographers I admire, and found my list far longer than that–but the one at the top of the list is Robert Adams.

Robert Adams

Robert Adams

I first became aware of Robert Adams in the early 1980’s, right as I was beginning to make photographs.  What struck me then (and still does) was his unflinching gaze at the world, how his pictures always looked the way the world was, which was not necessarily the way that other pictures looked.  I’ve managed, over the years, to acquire all of his books (there are about twenty of them by now), and many of them confused me when I first saw them–the pictures often appeared uninteresting and sometimes willfully unattractive.  It often takes me many repeated viewings over many years before his pictures come alive–but they always do–and once they come alive they become the most amazing pictures I’ve ever seen.

Kerstin Reading

Kerstin Reading

His most recent work, Turning Back, is the perfect example of his ability to look unflinchingly at the world around him.  Most of the photographs in the book are of the forests near his home in western Oregon, and many of them show the devastation caused by clear cutting (and it is hard not to recognize now that the lumber must have been going to build houses for people who couldn’t afford them…), landscapes so devastated by commerce that the result seem more the product of madness and war.   But it wasn’t until this summer, when I visited some Alaskan forests ravaged by spruce bark beetle damage, and I came back to his work that suddenly it came alive–the photographs he includes of old trees and of his wife reading poetry next to the stumps of the old growth, the ghosts of what once was, and the willful attempt to find beauty despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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