Robert Adams (photographer)

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For other persons named Robert Adams, see Robert Adams (disambiguation).

Robert Adams (born May 8, 1937) is an American photographer who has focused on the changing landscape of the American West.[1][2] His work first came to prominence in the mid-1970s[1] through the book The New West (1974) and the exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975).[1] He twice received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship and won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and Hasselblad Award.

Early life and career[edit]

Robert Hickman Adams, son of Lois Hickman Adams and Ross Adams, was born on May 8, 1937 in Orange, New Jersey.[1] In 1940 they moved to Madison, New Jersey where his younger sister Carolyn was born. Then in 1947 he moved to Madison, Wisconsin for five years, where he contracted polio at age 12 in 1949 in his back, left arm, and hand but was able to recover. Moving one last time in 1952 his family moved to Wheat Ridge, Colorado,[1] a suburb of Denver, when his father secured a job in Denver. His family moved to Colorado partly because of the chronic bronchial problems that he suffered from in Madison, New Jersey around age 5 as an attempt to help alleviate those problems. He continued to suffer from asthma and allergy problems.[3][4]

During his childhood, Adams often accompanied his father on walks and hikes through the woods[1] on Sunday afternoons. He also enjoyed playing baseball in open fields and working with his father on carpentry projects. He was an active Boy Scout,[1] and was also active with the Methodist church that his family attended. He and his father made several raft trips through Dinosaur National Monument, and during his adolescent years he worked at boys' camps at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. He also took trips on pack horses and went mountain climbing. He and his sister began visiting the Denver Art Museum. Adams also learned to like reading and it soon became an enjoyment for him. In 1955, he hunted for the last time.[3]

Adams enrolled in the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1955, and attended it for his freshman year, but decided to transfer the next year to the University of Redlands in California where he received his B.A. in English from Redlands in 1959. He continued his graduate studies at the University of Southern California and he received his Ph.D. in English in 1965.[3]

In 1960 while at Redlands, he met and married Kerstin Mornestam, Swedish native, who shared the same interest in the arts and nature. Robert and Kerstin spent their first few summers together in Oregon along the coast, where they took long walks on the beach and spent their evenings reading.[3]


In 1962 they moved back to Colorado, and Adams began teaching English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. In 1963, Adams bought a 35 mm reflex camera and began to take pictures mostly of nature and architecture. He soon read complete sets of Camera Work and Aperture at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. He learned photographic technique from Myron Wood, a professional photographer who lived in Colorado.[3] While finishing his dissertation, he began to photograph in 1964.[5] In 1966, he began to teach only part-time in order to have more time to photograph.[3] He met John Szarkowski, then curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, on a trip to New York City in 1969. The museum later bought four of his prints.[3] In 1970, he began working as a full-time photographer.[5]

Critic Sean O'Hagan, writing in The Guardian, said "his subject has been the American west: its vastness, its sparse beauty and its ecological fragility. [. . .] What he has photographed constantly – in varying shades of grey – is what has been lost and what remains" and that "his work's other great subtext" is silence.[1]



The work of Adams is held in the following public collections:


Famous photographs[edit]

Adams' On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, 1983, gelatin-silver print, 9 x 11 inches
  • East from Flagstaff Mountain, 1975
  • Burning Oil Sludge North of Denver, 1973


  • White Churches of the Plains, Colorado Associated University Press, Boulder, CO (1970).
  • The Architecture and Art of Early Hispanic Colorado, Colorado Associated University Press, Boulder, CO (1974).
  • The New West: Landscapes Along the Colorado Front Range, Colorado Associated University Press, Boulder, CO (1974).
  • Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area, Colorado Associated University Press, Boulder, CO (1977).
  • Prairie, Denver Art Museum, CO (1978).
  • From the Missouri West, Aperture, Millerton, N.Y. (1980).
  • Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values, Aperture, Millerton, NY (1981).
  • Summer Nights, Walking, Aperture, Millerton, NY; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (1982).
  • Our Lives and Our Children: Photographs Taken Near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Aperture, Millerton, NY (1984).
  • Summer Nights, Aperture, NY (1985).
  • Los Angeles Spring, Aperture, NY (1986).
  • Perfect Times, Perfect Places, Aperture, NY (1988).
  • To Make It Home: Photographs of the American West, Aperture, NY (1989).
  • Cottonwoods, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. (1995).
  • Listening to the River: Seasons in the American West, Aperture, NY (1994).
  • Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews by Robert Adams, Aperture, NY (1994; 2004). ISBN 978-0-89381-603-2.
  • West from the Columbia: Views at the River Mouth, Aperture, NY (1995).
  • Beauty in Photography, Aperture, NY (1996).
  • What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970–1974, Stiftung Niedersachsen, Hannover, Germany (1995). 2nd edition, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2009).
  • Eden, Roth Horowitz, NY (1999).
  • I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, Nazraeli, Tucson, AZ (1999).
  • Notes for Friends: Along Colorado Roads, University Press of Colorado, Boulder (1999).
  • California: Views by Robert Adams of the Los Angeles Basin 1978–1983, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York (2000).
  • Boddhisattva: A Gandharan Face, Nazraeli, Tucson, AZ (2001).
  • Alders, Nazraeli Press, Tucson, AZ (2002).
  • Sunlight, Solitude, Democracy, Home, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery / Reed College., Portland, OR (2002).
  • Commercial Residential, Roth Horowitz, NY (2003).
  • No Small Journeys: Across Shopping Center Parking Lots, Down City Streets, 1979–1982, Matthew Marks Gallery, NY (2003).
  • Pine Valley, Nazraeli, Tucson, AZ (2005).
  • A Portrait in Landscapes, Nazraeli, Tucson, AZ (2005).
  • Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York (2005).
  • Along Some Rivers: Photographs and Conversation, Aperture, NY (2006).
  • Interiors 1973–1974, Nazraeli, Tucson, AZ (2006).
  • Still Lives at Manzanita, Nazraeli, Tucson, AZ (2006).
  • Questions for an Overcast Day, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco (2007).
  • Time Passes, Foundation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, Paris (2007).
  • Close at Hand, Lodima Press, Revere, PA (2008).
  • Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area, 1970–1974, Rev. edition, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2009).
  • Summer Nights, Walking: Along the Colorado Front Range, 1976–1982, Aperture, New York, and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2009).
  • Tree Line: Hasselblad Award 2009, Hasselblad Foundation, Göteborg, Sweden, and Steidl, Göttingen, Germany, (2010).
  • Gone? Colorado in the 1980s, Steidl, Göttingen, Germany (2010).
  • What Can We Believe Where? Photographs of the American West, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2010).
  • The Place We Live, a Retrospective Selection of Photographs, 1964–2009, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2010).
  • Sea Stories, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2011).
  • This Day: Photographs from Twenty-Five Years, The Northwest Coast, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2011).
  • Light Balances & ON Any Given Day in Spring, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco (2012).
  • Prairie, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2012).
  • Skogen, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (2012).
  • The Question of Hope: Photographs in Western Oregon. Portland, OR: Nazraeli, 2013. ISBN 978-1-59005-382-9. The colophon says "Published on the occasion of the exhibition "The Question of Hope: Robert Adams in Western Oregon," organized by the Portland Art Museum, September 7, 2013 – January 5, 2014". Essay by Julia Dolan.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h O'Hagan, Sean (16 February 2012). "Robert Adams: a photographer with a profound sense of place". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  2. ^ "Robert Adams", Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Adams, Robert. "The Place We Live". Yale University Art Gallery. 
  4. ^ Blevins, Tim. 'Film & Photography on the Front Range, p. 290. Pikes Peak Library District, 2012. ISBN 978-1-56735-297-9. Accessed September 16, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Flattau, John (1980). Landscape: Theory. New York: Lustrum Press, Inc. p. 171. ISBN 0-912810-27-0. 
  6. ^ Jenkins, William. New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Catalogue. Rochester, NY: International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, 1975.
  7. ^ Robert Adams: Turning Back, January 14 – February 25, 2006 Matthew Marks, New York.
  8. ^ "Robert Adams – Biography – Matthew Marks Gallery". Matthew Marks. 
  9. ^ "Robert Adams: The Place We Live". Yale University. 
  10. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (24 February 2014). "Robert Adams: the photographer who roved the prairies for 45 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  11. ^ "Portland Art Museum acquires important collection of Robert Adams photographs". Fraenkel Gallery. 
  12. ^ "Robert Adams – Milwaukee Art Museum". Milwaukee Art Museum. 
  13. ^ "Whitney Museum of American Art: Robert Adams: Motel". Whitney Museum of American Art. 
  14. ^ "Robert Adams". The Museum of Modern Art. 
  15. ^ "Art Object". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. 
  16. ^ "Photography". Denver Art Museum. 
  17. ^ "Amon Carter Museum Announces Major Photography Acquisitions". Amon Carter Museum. 
  18. ^ "Robert Adams: Turning Back, A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration". 
  19. ^ Yale University Art Gallery, The Place We Live'
  20. ^ Carol Vogel (August 2, 2012), Shaping a Legacy for the National Gallery New York Times.
  21. ^ "Robert Hickman Adams". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  22. ^ a b c "Museum of Contemporary Photography". Museum of Contemporary Photography. 
  23. ^ "Robert Adams – Beauty in Photography – Photography Book – Aperture Foundation". Aperture Foundation. 
  24. ^ "Robert Adams", MacArthur Fellowship. Accessed 14 July 2014.
  25. ^ "03PundM-intro". Sprengel Museum. 
  26. ^ Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2006. Accessed 14 July 2014
  27. ^ Magnusson, Niklas. Robert Adams, U.S. Photographer, Wins $61,000 Hasselblad Award. Bloomberg News, April 15, 2009.

External links[edit]