One of the great classic books of American landscape photography has just been reprinted: Robert Adams's fine, iconoclastic '70s exploration of the Front Range, The New West.
The New West , subtitled Landscapes Along the Colorado Front Range, was foundational for the New Topographics movement, and it marked (as well as anything) a fundamental change for American photography of landscape in general and of the West in particular: if Ansel Adams was in essence the last of the great 19th-century landscapists, echoing their heroic treatment of the West-as-wilderness, pristine, untrammeled and exotic, Robert Adams (no relation) was an early standout among younger generations of photographers who were taking a more jaundiced, documentary look at how land in the West was actually being used.
...Yet few love the land more than Robert Adams, who has written eloquently on the subject in short, epigrammatic essays and books such as Beauty In Photography and Why People Photograph, which I think are crucial companions to photographic books such as The New West, From the Missouri West, and the scarifying Los Angeles Spring. Robert Adams, who is a fine writer and has won both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur "genius grant," is in a sense American photography's counterpart to Wendell Berry.
Photograph by Robert Adams
Maybe a book will be written in the future comparing and contrasting those two Adamses, Ansel and Robert. Both were (are, in the case of Robert, who was born in 1937 and is now 78) environmentalists. But their approach to that is diametrically opposite—Ansel celebrates the land as it supposedly was when unpopulated or very sparsely populated (although the hand of man can still be seen in many such photographs by people who know what they are looking for), and Robert's work is in part a sustained cry of anguish at what has been done to the land through poor stewardship and exploitation; he accepts the presence of mankind everywhere and the banality of many of the elements we've imposed on the land, while at the same time always remaining conscious of the essential dignity of the landscape.
The new volume ($26.49) is a careful and loving recreation by Steidl of the 1974 original. It's a small book, 9x10 inches, and belongs on the shelf next to such books as American Photographs by Walker Evans, William Eggleston's Guide, and The Americans by Robert Frank.
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