Monday, April 19, 2010

Two American Photographers

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve discovered two photographers whose work has just blown me away—Robert Adams (born 1937) and Andrew Moore (1957). Their work is very different—Adams is more a landscape photographer, while Moore seems drawn to urban settings, with some emphasis on urban decay. But both of them have created works of immense beauty.

I saw a review of Robert Adams’ book Summer Nights Walking, a recent republication and expansion of his 1985 book Summer Nights, both published by
Aperture, which is virtually a guarantee that the technical aspects of the book, and its physical appearance, will be perfect. Aperture’s website describes the book as follows:

Illuminated by moonlight and streetlamp, the houses, roads, sidewalks, and fields in Summer Nights, Walking
(Aperture/YUAG, September 2009) retain the wonder and stillness of the original edition, while adopting the artist’s intention of a dreamy fluidity, befitting his nighttime perambulations. The extraordinary care taken with the new reproductions also registers Adams’s attention to the subtleties of the night, and conveys his appeal to look again at places we might have dismissed as uninteresting. Adams observes, “What attracted me to the subjects at a new hour was the discovery then of a neglected peace.”

These black-and-white photos, shot in Colorado in the 1970s and 1980s, lead you through a community you’ve never seen, and make you a part of it. His other images take you through an American west that is endlessly interesting. His images are generally uncluttered, with a clear central focus; they are always sharply observed; the viewer, even one seeing a familiar setting, sees it differently, changed. A recent exhibition at the
Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco focuses on trees—stumps, seedlings, (what looks to me like a clear-cut) mountainside, mature trees…again, an American landscape transformed by how it is viewed.

Andrew Moore has worked, it seems, largely in color. His recent exhibition at the Akron Art Museum, is the basis for his book
Detroit Disassembled. This is a stunning collection of a city in the midst of collapse, with images from the industrial heart of the city (photographs of Ford’s River Rouge plant, Fisher Body, the old Packard Motor Car Company plant), to municipal buildings, to civic landmarks to the neighborhoods. It’s interesting to contrast his photographs of the Rouge (e.g., on pp. 9 and 13) with the extremely elegant photographs in Michael Kenna’s The Rouge. Kenna worked in b&w, and his images are understated, the decline and decay less obvious behind a foreground of strength and solidity.

Moore takes us inside, shows us the rusting equipment, the empty factory space, bare of equipment and people, stretching, it seems, almost to infinity. Two struck me with special force. The first is an office at the former Ford headquarters building (p. 31), with what appears to be a sumptuous green carpet, but may be, you realize, sumptuous green mold. The second is an elegant brick building, obviously abandoned (p. 103), when you note the homeless man in the entryway. It’s the University Club of Detroit, once the locus of upper-middle-class power in the city, now covered with vines, in red, yellow, and green.

But throughout the book I saw images that arrested me—an old, classic movie palace turned into a parking deck; a (closed) library branch, with carousels of paperbacks still there…

Take a look yourself, at the work of both of these photographers, and be prepared to have your way of seeing changed.

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