Jessica Adams

I use the everyday phenomena of light as a source material for my unconventional experimentations with 35mm film. For my ongoing Altered Landscapes series I photograph shifting streaks of light and then submit my undeveloped negatives to physical manipulations, like putting them in the laundry machine, soaking them in a lake and opening up the back of the camera to expose the film to light. The resulting imagery reveals surprising colors and lines that are inherent to the quality of film, and yet invisible without the manipulations. 

These projects are similar to meditation: the goal is to reveal the previously unseen in order to make the new light become a sort of consciousness. The practice of manipulating film is an effort at locating a phenomenological presence that can only be revealed through that physical destruction. The process and result of these alterations is similar to closing the eyes when in front of the sun; unexpected lights, colors, and lines begin to form within the subconscious.

I am fascinated by the way that light moves throughout the day, and how the effort of tracking it affects our understanding of the way the natural world operates. Shifting light can alter our environments, our moods, and our awareness of physical and mental space. By harnessing the ephemeral passing of light, the altered image becomes a unique representation of a singular moment in time, a one-time combination of light, color, and chemical reaction that can never again be duplicated, except through the photograph.

— Jessica Adams, Brooklyn, New York, USA

Review: Looking at the Land

Looking at the Land, curated by Andy Adams

As Adams notes in his introduction, many of the photographers included in Looking at the Land grew up in the suburbs, and have little experience with the wild. They are the heirs to the New Topographics style of photography.

Many of the photographs in this broad survey share a similar aesthetic: straightforward images of a place, but often tinged with irony or humor. Adams has created an exceptional viewing experience: there’s a 17-minute video of the photos and also an online catalog of each of the 88 images along with interviews with most of the artists. It’s fascinating to navigate through the interviews, reading the ones attached to the images that catch your interest.

The exhibit accompanies a show at the Rhode Island School of Design that investigates landscape photography from 1865 to the present. While the RISD show will be up for only a limited time, Adams plans to keep his exhibit online indefinitely. Adams, who produces the website Flak Photo, has also narrowed his focus to images made in the 21st century.

Some of the more memorable images, for me, were Chuck Hemard’s photo of flocking birds on telephone wires, Eliot Dudik’s image of tire tracks in snow, Jennifer Ray’s placement of woven grasses in a field, Mike Sinclair’s Kansas City street scene and Sophie T. Lvoff’s cloud scene photographed in New Orleans.

I was surprised to see how many of the images were beautiful in a classical sense, rather than ironic. Lvoff’s cloud image, for example, shows a gorgeous orange and peach-colored sunset. Her interview confirms my impression: “The way the sky unfolds every day is unique and has to do with the humidity here — so I photographed the roof of my house and surrounding trees on my street during an epic weather moment. It’s beautiful.”

Rather than critique humanity’s interactions with nature, some of the photographers consider ways to improve it. Ray writes this about her grass sculpture: “I began to think of how I could make a model of this symbiotic relationship — how I could depict nature manipulated, but unharmed, by humans. I spent two days sitting in this pasture, braiding grass, and trying to find the right topography, form, and time of day. As a gesture, the braid is gentle and impermanent, undone with the next windstorm or downpour.”

The photographers Adams has brought together provide a more hopeful vision than was presented in 1975 at the New Topographics exhibit in Rochester, New York.

— Willson Cummer

Favorite Five Books Found in 2011

I’m sharing five books that I came across in the past year that I found inspirational. I’ll review them in alphabetical order of the authors’s names.

Robert Adams, Tree Line
Photos of trees in eastern Oregon. Loose compositions that feel conversational in tone. Somehow in Adams’s hands an image of trees, a road and telephone wires becomes a lovely form that invites repeated viewings. Adams includes shots that were taken within minutes of each other at the same scene, thus creating what seem like still shots from a movie. Much of Adams’s work shows humankind’s destruction of nature, but this project often includes purely “natural” scenes. Adams writes that his images “recall a consolation always and everywhere the same: the promise inherent in nature’s beauty.” What follows from the recognition of that beauty is the great sadness at its loss, which Adams has eloquently explored in earlier projects.

William Eggleston, The Democratic Forest
Eggleston finds beauty in the most mundane scenes. His images include trees, fields, intersections, telephone poles, signs and decaying buildings, but his true subject is color and form. He appears to have used a 35mm camera (he’s holding one in the author photo), in an interesting change from the work of Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld and others who have used 8×10 cameras to photograph similar subjects. One of my favorite images is untitled (p. 59) and shows a parking area behind a few buildings. On the left is a dark green structure. To the center is a brick and cinderblock building and on the right is a blue car, dazzling in the direct sunlight. Starting at the bottom right and wending their way toward the upper left are sets of lime-green footsteps stenciled onto the blacktop. So mysterious and beautiful. Another memorable image is a photo of mud, a chain, and two mud-stained boots and jean legs — photographed at an oil rig. The yellow-orange of the mud spreads over the chain and clothing — as if the earth were swallowing up the person foolish enough to try to extract nature’s riches. The book includes an introduction by Eudora Welty and an afterword by Eggleston.

Andy Grundberg, Crisis of the Real
Intellectual criticism that makes sense and is fairly easy to follow. Grundberg presents an insightful discussion of postmodernism, comparing the meaning of that movement in various artistic genres. A chilling conclusion: “There is no place in the postmodern world for a belief in the authenticity of experience, in the sanctity of the individual artist’s vision, in genius, or originality.” (p. 18) That’s why I continue to struggle with postmodernism. Grundberg includes illuminating essays about the work of Walker Evans, Robert Adams, Joel Sternfeld, Richard Prince and Sophie Calle, among many others.

Ken Schles, Oculus
Part philosophical text, part photobook, Oculus is a tantalizing publication. Schles includes references to many sources, touching on Plato, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. The book includes gorgeous images from three very different projects: portraiture of children sleeping, nighttime beach photography and a varied series of images gathered under the title “Mnemosyne,” for the Greek goddess of memory and the inventor of reason and language. Schles includes lengthy notes, which give the reader multiple access points to the book. His mysterious chapter titles, like “Seeing Is Not Knowing,” challenge the viewer to connect Schles’s philosophical musings to the images.

Dale Schreiner, Thereafter
Meditations after the shooting death of his father. Stunning tones, interesting subjects. Very well sequenced, with logical connections between all the shots. Schreiner opens the project with an image of a road and a four-sided sign that we see from behind. He photographed from a tangled scrub land off the road, with a short fence between him and road. The path toward the future, Schreiner seems to be saying, is not easily found or followed. Even road signs, placed there for guidance, may be worthless. Trees are a recurring element in Schreiner’s images, and they are at times bent in half, wrapped with small ropes or set behind fences. In one image a tree stands behind a ribbon that warns “danger.” The consolation that Robert Adams wrote about is simply not present in Schreiner’s work, though the subject matter is similar. Thereafter was published by Vela Noche Press in an edition of 20 books.

— Willson Cummer