I can’t remember the first time I encountered Robert Adams’ book Summer Nights, Walking but it must of been somewhere along the way at a book fair, as the first edition published by Aperture is not exceedingly out in rotation. Years later, I went to see the exhibition of these images with a photographer friend when they were being displayed at Matthew Marks’ 523 West 24th street location. I was floored. I had loved the images the first time I had seen them, but viewing these photographs in person was an experience unto itself.
For me, Adams’ work has always had that factor, perhaps what Barthes was talking about when he described the punctum. His images seem to touch me in a way that feels so deeply personal, as if there is a direct link between myself and the contents of the photograph. This sense of intimacy is strangely heightened by Adams’ subject matter, which often is focused on forgotten moments, lost details, seemingly ordinary places. There is a subtlety to the relationship between man and nature and his images are rarely occupied by overt sentimentality.
When I saw, in person, Summer Nights, Walking, I ached to be there, as if I had been once before. I had a sense not of nostalgia, for it was something less sentimental, but equally resonant. An inner longing to inhabit the spaces depicted that ran deeper than a surface emotional thrill. For what I was longing, I am not sure, as never has my life been reflective of these images, but somehow I felt pulled into them. It was at once deeply sad and deeply beautiful. The richness of Adams’ tones, of his shadows, the depths of his blacks, which have more layers, richness and secrets than many paintings I can think of, depict a world as we want to live in it. His images create the imperfect balance between pain and beauty, between the known and unknown, between light and shadow. It’s the ideal world of romanticism without any of the trite foolishness that can be associated with the term.
And so, just over two and half years since I saw those iconic images as prints, Matthew Marks is exhibiting a new body of work by the photographer at their 526 West 22nd street location. On Any Given Day in Spring and Light Balances are two bodies of work made in the last seven years. Light Balances is a group of extremely dense black and white images taken in a protected forest in Oregon near where Adams lives. The richness of the blacks and whites is so integral to my love of Adams’ work and in these images particularly, it feels as if you can push the leaves of the trees aside and go deeper and deeper. Although they are small in size compared to most photography today, they open up to world so expansive it seems endless as you look through the photograph. There are fifty-nine photographs that make up this series and it is no surprise that Adams is not at any loss in finding a unique vision in each frame. Each one seems to explode with its own quiet beauty containing a lurching secret somewhere deep within the woods.
In the back room of the gallery is On Any Given Day in Spring, a series of photographs, more neutral in tone, depicting a flock of seagulls on the beach in Washington State. As each image unfolds, one after one another, it’s as if an eloquent game of cat and mouse is being played between the birds, the beach, the sky and the ocean. In both series currently on view, there is a crackle that exists within the images. As if you can hear the slight noises that make up the forest, the beach, the sound of the seagulls taking off into flight as the waves crumble onto the shore. However, its simultaneously combined with the visual as to create one singular sensation that attacks the senses.
As if I haven’t gushed enough I will say not much more than this is an exhibition more than worth seeing. The images are remarkably beautiful. And although they should not be summarized as only that, seeing that beauty in the world is often necessary and Adams’ has the rare gift to connect his viewer to that beauty instinctively and without doubt.