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ROBERT ADAMS

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Mike Bruce

503.384544 square kilometers of Yosemite Valley printed on 6,160 sheets of paper

For a century and a half, photographers have been incorporating a wide range of tools and agendas in their efforts to document the landscape of the American West. Among the lensmen who use more unexpected techniques is U.K.-based Dan Holdsworth, whose latest body of work, Transmission, takes data gleaned from radar scans done by the U.S. Geological Survey to create virtual models of American landscapes. By showing storied locations such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite in a new way, Holdsworth pays tribute to, and advances, the history of the genre.

The rich and ongoing history of landscape photography in the American West had very practically-minded origins. As interest in the region surged throughout the 19th century, enterprising railroad companies and government organizations sent out small armies of scientists, cartographers, illustrators and photographers to sample, survey and record the recently acquired territories. The best of the photographers, like Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan, produced work that transcended the scientific genre. Theirs was a vision of an untouched land of sublime grandeur.

Fast-forward a century. Shopping malls and parking lots stretch from Trenton to Tacoma. A group of photographers including Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams and Joe Deal started producing work that would become known as the “New Topographics.” Instead of scrubbing their images of any trace of man, they focused on him. As Baltz once recalled: “I was living in Monterey, a place where the classic photographers — the Westons, Wynn Bullock and Ansel Adams — came for a privileged view of nature. But my daily life very rarely took me to Point Lobos or Yosemite; it took me to shopping centers, and gas stations and all the other unhealthy growth that flourished beside the highway. It was a landscape that no one else had much interest in looking at.” Man had sullied the sublime.

For years, the U.S. Geological Survey has used satellite-borne radar to survey much of the United States, and the amount of data collected is staggering. Gallery shows of Transmission include a stack of over 6,000 sheets of paper containing the XYZ coordinate points necessary to map just over 300 square miles of Yosemite Valley alone. Holdsworth appropriated this data (as well as some from Open Topography), and with the help of a university geologist, created computer models of the land. He used a software program to remove everything but the basic contours of the earth and the occasional trace of a road or building. (In a way other photographers may envy, Holdsworth was even able to alter the direction of the virtual sunlight, thus controlling the time of “day.”) After he created these 3D worlds, he was able to navigate them at will—peering over the edge of a volcano, or down the corridors of canyons.

From the millions of square miles of mapped territory, Holdsworth carefully chose five locations—the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mount St. Helens, Mount Shasta and Salt Lake City, Utah—for his series. The first four were among the places the early photographers of the Romantic Sublime made their awesome, unpeopled images. And it was near the last one, Salt Lake City, Utah, where Lewis Baltz made his seminal New Topographics project on suburban sprawl. Holdsworth thus references the history of the medium but, with his new method, moves the ball forward. As Emma Lewis writes in her essay on the work, “Looking at the world as though from space, Transmission evokes a sense of capturing something that has never been seen before; something especially powerful as these landscapes have been so visually reproduced throughout history as to become embedded in the popular conscience.” But they do not merely look new; in their method, they evoke our current era of potentially terrifying technology such as the Gorgon Stare, the U.S. government drone camera whose eyes are said to be able to devour whole cities at a time. Ultimately, as Lewis writes, Holdsworth is arguing that, “the exaltation of discovery can still exist because the man-made and the sublime are not mutually exclusive.”

Dan Holdsworth is a British photographer based in London.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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proportional_1000_1479_largeview.jpgFourth of July #2, Independence, Missouri, by Mike Sinclair

Photographers, mark your calendars! 2009 Ne Plus Ultra Mike Sinclair's debut solo show in NYC, at Jen Bekman Gallery, is but mere days away. An opening reception for Public Assembly will be held on Friday, May 11th, 2012, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., and the show will be on view Saturday, May 12th, through Saturday, June 24th.

Mike impressed our panelists with his ephemeral portraits focusing on "crowds at sun-soaked fairgrounds, beaches and baseball games," and he adeptly captured a sense of nostalgic Americana that we simply couldn't get out of our heads and hearts. Soon, he was creating limited-edition prints with 20x200 to share with collectors all around the world. We are thrilled for Mike's success, which includes being published in the New York Times, Metropolis, Architectural Record and Interior Design, as well as having his work in private and public collections in the U.S.

+ Photographer Daniel Seung Lee, who was a contender in a past round of our competition, was selected to participate with 20x200. Two of his photographs are now available as limited editions on the site.

+ April is almost over, and with it the Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA). If you're in L.A., there are major ongoing exhibitions you can catch, like Robert Adams: The Place We Live and Fracture: Daido Moriyama at LACMA, as well as In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945-1980, Herb Ritts: L.A. Style and Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity at The Getty.

+ Smaller shows were also taking place across town that featured Jen Bekman Projects artists. You can still catch Taj Forer's solo exhibition, Stone by Stone at LeadApron through May 19th.

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When the current incarnation of LightBox launched a year ago today, one of our very first posts featured the work of Eugene Richards, an American photographer who had released a book documenting the impact of the Iraq War on soldiers and their families. It’s been years since the book, War is Personal, hit shelves in September 2010, and even longer since Richards completed the project. In honor of that anniversary, LightBox caught up with Richards to discuss the way that photographs can follow a photographer.With War is Personal, Richards has found that it’s not just the images that draw him back in. “When you do a project like this, people keep occasionally popping back into your life,” he says.

Some of the subjects of the book have fallen out of touch with the photographer, while others he leaves alone, for now at least, feeling that it would be an intrusion to contact them before they want to be contacted. Still, others are still very much involved in the afterlife of the project. Richards knows that one combat medic featured in the project, suicidal at the time, has started law school and is doing well. Another of the subjects, already confined to a wheelchair, has seen his health deteriorate further in the months that have passed. And in one situation, Richards’ involvement with his subjects has gone past keeping tabs. Carlos Arredondo, featured in War is Personal as the father of a deceased soldier and as an antiwar activist, recently lost another son, Brian, to suicide. Because the Arredondo family was in financial trouble, and because the self-published War is Personal sold better than Richards had expected, the photographer and his team—along with the Nation Institute, which had given Richards a fellowship to work on the project—helped defray the cost of Brian’s funeral. The photographs in the gallery above were taken in the days around that event.

Eugene Richards

Carlos Arredondo holds a photograph of his son Alex. From Eugene Ricards' September 2010 book War Is Personal.

“The grief really took over Brian,” Arredondo told Richards. “But it’s not only those people who kill themselves who are suffering, but los familios.”

Richards, who already began two new projects in the past year, says he tries not to revisit stories after he finishes them. “I think all journalists try not to,” he says, “but then they come back to you, again and again and again.”

On one level, they come back as people, like the Arredondo family. On another, the stories come back as a consequence of the photographer’s immersion in the subject. Following an idea for long enough to create a large project about it means that the facts and emotions of its world become so familiar that, Richards says, they start to seep into every aspect of life. Something only tangentially related to a photograph taken a year or two years or twenty years ago can provoke the old perspective. “Suddenly you’re back to where you were at a different time,” says Richards.

Richards hasn’t taken any other additional photographs of the families from War is Personal, but he says he will probably return to the subject of war’s impact. Richards says he can’t turn away from people who are open to his journalistic curiosity and his camera’s presence. After all, there is no shortage of reasons to continue to snap away, no shortage of families affected by the country’s evolving military situation.

“This is the next round of response now that the declaration of war here is over, and perhaps people will come back from Afghanistan,” he predicts. “Concerns are going to grow and grow.”

Eugene Richards is an award-winning American photographer. See more of his work here.

Watch LightBox’s video about War is Personal here.

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by Claire O'Neill

I don't know if I can directly answer the latter question. But certain curators like Joshua Chuang at the Yale University Art Gallery are determined to answer the former: Who is Robert Adams?

Chuang, now probably the leading Adams expert, started asking that himself, back when he was a student of photography. He picked up one of Adams' books — with characteristically dense writing and arguably unapproachable photos. "It took me a couple years to really get it," he says over the phone.

But now, it seems, he gets it. In 2004, Yale inherited a huge trove of Adams' work, and Chuang has been processing it since then. "There was not a single bad image in the group," Chuang says with a genuine deference. "His standards were so high and his editing of his own work was so rigorous." The fruits of their joint labor are in a traveling exhibition, The Place We Live, now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Credit: Robert Adams/Courtesy of LACMA

The basics: Adams can most succinctly be described as a photographer of the American West. He was born in New Jersey, but his family moved westward to mitigate his issues with asthma, and he has remained there. Only after getting a Ph.D. in English did he really begin photographing, and he has been at is since, but quietly. He doesn't email, he rarely takes interviews, and he lets Chuang come to him.

Maybe it helps to set the stage. When Adams picked up his camera, the most recognizable images from the American West were those sublime landscapes of Ansel Adams. To a large degree, that's still the case.

But where Ansel had a moral mission (to conserve nature by presenting it to the public in its pristine form), Robert's approach has been more clinical: He observes the interaction of man with land as objectively as possible. Where Ansel's photos say, "Look at what we should cherish!" Robert's say: "Here is what we are doing, and make what you will of it."

Chuang elaborates: "What sets Adams apart is his utter dedication to showing the whole picture, a truthful picture. ... Every one of his photographs is really a complex mix of good and bad. He tries to make pictures that say yes and no at once."

For example, one of the photos in the exhibit shows a small cluster of trees at the edge of a steep drop-off. By all technical definitions, one might call it beautiful. The balanced composition, the quality of light — those are things that say "yes." But then there's the title, straight-forward as it is: New development on a former citrus-growing estate, Highland, California. That seems like a subtle "no."

New development on a former citrus-growing estate, Highland, California, 1983
Robert Adams/LACMA

New development on a former citrus-growing estate, Highland, California, 1983

But it's not obvious. These photos are not on a soapbox preaching the ramifications of global warming. They are trying to be more black and white. At least, that's the idea.

"Adams has tried to go out of his way to make the uniconic pictures," says Chuang. "He chooses subjects that are so banal that they almost seem hopeless."

Though curator Joshua Chuang says Robert Adams is, in a sense, trying to make
Robert Adams/Fraenkel Gallery/LACMA

Though curator Joshua Chuang says Robert Adams is, in a sense, trying to make "uniconic" images, this one stands out as one of his more memorable: Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968

Of course, I think Robert Adams would be hard-pressed to deny that he loves the West. I actually don't think he would try to deny it. In his writings, he waxes poetic about the quality of light, and how it redeems even the most dismal of tract houses.

You might not know he loves it, just from glancing at the images, and he sees value in that. But he also hopes you'll do more than glance. For all the desolate scenes of suburban sprawl, there's still that brilliant high-altitude light. For all of Adams' apparent indifference, and he might hate me for saying this, there seems to be a bit of hope there, too. It might just take a closer look.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Available on both YouTube and Vimeo, DEVELOP Tube is a video channel that offers resources for photographers. Each project featured on DEVELOP Tube is carefully curated from the photography-related selections of the two video services, with the goal of reflecting and informing some aspect of the photographic community. Thousands of videos are showcased there, from behind the scenes looks at the editing process to trailers for photography-related films. There’s a discussion with photographer Stephen Shore, who helped popularize color photography, about working with Andy Warhol, as well as a multimedia piece about the U.S. economy. Elsewhere, there’s an interview with war photographer Joao Silva, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2010, about “the biggest fight of the photographer.”

DEVELOP Tube on Vimeo

DEVELOP Tube on Vimeo

But DEVELOP Tube is only a small part of a larger project.

DEVELOP’s founder, Erica McDonald, is an American photographer, curator and teacher, whose career has taken her into magazines, newspapers, galleries and schools around the world. But, she says, she had come to recognize that her geographic location and her connections were giving her a leg up on other photographers, those in isolated regions or just beginning their careers. She wanted to change that.

“I see people around the world who maybe don’t have the same foundation or connections or even opportunities or time or whatever it is, to know what’s what, what grants are available or where they could show their work,” she says. “I felt like I could do something to contribute to our community this way.”

That contribution is DEVELOP Photo, a website slated to launch as the next phase of McDonald’s project. Working as a “one-man band” except for back-end web engineering, she has also built the whole thing from scratch. She says DEVELOP Tube is just a teaser for the larger initiative. “Little did I realize it was going to be about two years later and I would’ve been working around the clock,” she says.

The project took on a life of its own and will, in its final iteration, include an online resource library, education workshops, a magazine aspect and more. Even now, the video channels are a rich source of photographic information. A few weeks ago, DEVELOP collaborated with other photography organizations (like Daylight Magazine and Slideluck Potshow) to host a “Women in Multimedia” night in Bologna, Italy, to showcase the work of many multimedia artists from around the world. Some participated as solo artists and some were part of a group multimedia piece. The event was the source of the works in the gallery shown above, and was part of a larger exhibit called Uncommon Intimacy, which was co-curated by McDonald and is on view now through March 15. And McDonald also is working on collaborating to produce a documentary photography workshop, to be held in New York City this coming June.

McDonald isn’t quite sure what the future holds once the full site launches. “I don’t want it to become a commercial endeavor per se, but I’m not sure I want it to become a non-profit,” she says, but the project continues to expand. “Whoever we work with, it should be in the collaborative spirit. It’s a really interesting, vibrant, alive confluence of pieces.”

Erica McDonald is an American photographer based in New York City. Find out more here.

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Retrospective exhibits, while an enviable chance to create a cohesive story from a lifetime’s worth of work, can be a curator’s nightmare: pieces have to be gathered from all over the world, selected at a distance, organized before they even get to the gallery. Not so the new retrospective of the work of Robert Adams, the photographer famous for documenting the people and landscapes of the American West—both natural and manmade—who is approaching his 75th birthday this May. The show, which opens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on March 11, was put together at the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) from the master set of thousands of prints donated to the gallery by the photographer in 2004.

“We had time to work with originals and precisely strike a tone that we thought the overall exhibition should have,” says Joshua Chuang of the YUAG, who worked with Adams to curate the images that the show comprises. Adams had preserved the best prints of his work throughout his career and he was instrumental in sculpting the retrospective, which will travel for two years following its time at LACMA. “It’s a very special artist indeed who is the best editor of his own work,” says Chuang. “Adams is really exceptional in that way.”

The resulting show is not intended to be merely a collection of over 300 pictures that happen to be the work of one artist, but rather a single, epic piece of work. It includes each of his major projects, dating back to 1964, and dozens of photo books that he has produced. LACMA’s installation also includes a multimedia reading room and a variety of related programs, from a botany-themed tour to talks with local artists who have been inspired by Adams’ work.

Chuang says that, taken together, the pictures in the show demonstrate how, even though many people think that a camera captures a literal version of the world, the art of photography is one of fiction. “The way that fiction functions is very tricky because it’s using facts to tell a fiction, and it has the appearance of fact,” he says. Robert Adams’ particular devotion to those facts, especially when it comes to capturing the precise look of light that may be flat or boring or dim, was so extreme that the photographer, viewing prints of a photograph taken decades before, was able to describe to curators the exact feeling of standing in a particular spot thirty years ago, and how that feeling ought to come across in the image. Chuang says that such fastidiousness about light means that Robert Adams’ work probably captures the West more accurately than that of the other chronicler of that region, Ansel Adams. But that faithfulness doesn’t mean a lack of artistry. Robert Adams’ skill at capturing nondescript light conjures up an experience—whether it’s in a Target store or the desert—with unexpected intricacy.

“He makes smog in California look ethereal and beautiful,” says Chuang.

And because of his relationship with that state, the photographer’s series of Los Angeles photographs will be highlighted in the show’s LACMA incarnation, in order to allow visitors to compare the environment of their daily lives with the one captured on film, says Edward Robinson, LACMA curator.

“It will be great for people to see this extraordinary photographer’s understanding and exploration of the area, to see how changes in the built environment have been reflected in the landscape,” says Robinson, “and what even the trees can suggest about the use of the land over time.”

Robert Adams: The Place We Live will be on view at LACMA from March 11 through June 3. Find out more about the exhibit here, or visit the YUAG companion site here.

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October marks the launch of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945-1980, a region-wide collaboration celebrating the birth of the Los Angeles art scene. Lyra Kilston reports on the landscape photography made in this prolific era, the second in a four-part LightBox series about PST.

Joe Deal, reflecting on his landscape photographs of the early 1970s, wrote: “Why contribute, I reasoned, to the growing pile of photographs of an idealized American landscape while it was being chewed up before our eyes by advancing suburban development, interstate highways and shopping malls?” Deal’s sentiments were shared by a new school of Southern California-based photographers, including Lewis Baltz, Henry Wessel and Robert Adams, who felt that landscape photography was languishing in a dreamy, nostalgic style which ignored the reality of a changing world. They sought, as Deal put it, an “unromantic and unfiltered way of looking through the lens.”

This different style of photography—now known as New Topographics after the title of a groundbreaking and highly influential 1975 exhibition at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y.—departed from the legacy of idealized landscape photography mastered by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston by unflinchingly depicting the Western landscape as it had become: full of highways, housing developments and anonymous corporate buildings. The fascinating evolution from the sublime, high-contrast style of Adams and Weston to the cool, detached documentary look favored in the 1970s and 1980s is explored in the exhibit Seismic Shift: Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal and California Landscape Photography, 1944-1984, which features work by more than 40 photographers, now on view at the California Museum of Photography at the University of California, Riverside (where Deal and Baltz both taught).

The early photographs in this exhibit showcase the majesty of unspoiled natural settings, but by the 1950s the influence of abstract art was apparent in formal compositions by Minor White and William Garnett. By the late 1960s many landscape photographers were heavily manipulating their images to convey psychological states and mystic symbolism. As one critic deemed it, this method eventually reached a point of “poetic exhaustion.”

In response, the New Topographic photographers portrayed the intersection of nature and civilization with a flat sobriety. Common subjects included abandoned storefronts, storage facilities and chain link fences, as well as examples of artificial nature, such as a mural of a farm painted on the side of a truck. In Wessel’s deadpan California (1969) a Chevron oil sign hovers over a blank desert of scrub brush, and in Los Angeles (1970), an electrical pole bisects an empty parking lot. Judy Fiskin, Laurie Brown and Leland Rice focused on the impact of tract housing and construction sites, while Grant Rusk shot hills sliced with paths of asphalt and concrete.

A sense of loss is inevitable when all that’s left of nature is a strip of dirt fringing a concrete wall, as portrayed in one of Baltz’s well-known images. Yet as Robert Adams noted, “Unspoiled places sadden us because, in a sense, they are no longer true.” As stark or banal as the New Topographic style was, there is a value and beauty in its truthfulness. Landscape had changed dramatically in the developed West, and photography had to change with it.

Seismic Shift: Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal and California Landscape Photography, 1944-1984, is on view through Dec. 31 at the California Museum of Photography at the University of California, Riverside.

Lyra Kilston is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including ArtforumArt in America and Photo District News.

Read the first part of the PST series here.

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The Spectre of Theater

By Tricia Lawless Murray

Masochism is itself an aesthetic formation. The only place where its contradictions and impossibilities can be reconciled is that specific zone that modern aesthetic philosophy, from Kant to Lyotard, has identified as the sublime, that unique and illogical experience that carries with it both pleasure and pain.
—Nick Mansfield

Victor Cobo

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Prostitute at angle of Rue de la Reynie and Rue Quincampoix, 1933

Brassai with Tony Ray-Jones, Creative Camera, April, 1970

Tony Ray-Jones: How did you start your life?

Brassai: I was born in Transylvania in 1899. My father was a teacher of French literature. He lived in Paris and loved it and studied at the Sorbonne. When I was five my father brought me and my family to Paris for a year. I

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