Biography | Bibliography
Robert Adams is an American photographer who has focused on the changing landscape of the American West. His work first came to prominence in the mid-1970s through the book The New West (1974) and the exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape(1975). He was a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in photography in 1973 and 1980, and he received the MacArthur Fellowship in 1994. In 2009, he received the Hasselblad Award for his achievements in photography.
Robert Hickman Adams, son of Lois Hickman Adams and Ross Adams, was born on May 8, 1937 in Orange, New Jersey. In 1940 they moved to Madison, New Jersey where his younger sister Carolyn was born. Then in 1947 he moved to Madison, Wisconsin for five years, where he contracted polio at age 12 in 1949 in his back, left arm, and hand but was able to recover. Moving one last time in 1952 his family moved to Wheat Ridge, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, when his father secured a job in Denver. His family moved to Colorado partly because of the chronic bronchial problems that he suffered from in Madison, New Jersey around age 5 as an attempt to help alleviate those problems. He continued to suffer from asthma and allergy problems.
During his childhood, Adams often accompanied his father on walks and hikes through the woods on Sunday afternoons. He also enjoyed playing baseball in open fields and working with his father on carpentry projects. He was an active Boy Scout, and was also active with the Methodist church that his family attended. He and his father made several raft trips through Dinosaur National Monument, and during his adolescent years he worked at boys’ camps at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. He also took trips on pack horses and went mountain climbing. He and his sister began visiting the Denver Art Museum. Adams also learned to like reading and it soon became an enjoyment for him. In 1955, he hunted for the last time.
Adams enrolled in the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1955, and attended it for his freshman year, but decided to transfer the next year to the University of Redlands in California where he received his B.A. in English from Redlands in 1959. He continued his graduate studies at the University of Southern California and he received his Ph.D. in English in 1965.
In 1960 while at Redlands, he met and married Kerstin Mornestam, Swedish native, who shared the same interest in the arts and nature. Robert and Kerstin spent their first few summers together in Oregon along the coast, where they took long walks on the beach and spent their evenings reading.
In 1962 they moved back to Colorado, and Adams began teaching English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. In 1963, Adams bought a 35mm reflex camera and began to take pictures mostly of nature and architecture. He soon read complete sets of Camera Work and Aperture at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. He learned photographic technique from Myron Wood, a professional photographer who lived in Colorado. While finishing his dissertation, he began to photograph in 1964. In 1967, he began to teach only part-time in order to have more time to photograph. He met John Szarkowski, then curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, on a trip to New York City in 1969. The museum later bought four of his prints. In 1970, he began working as a full-time photographer.
Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian, said “his subject has been the American west: its vastness, its sparse beauty and its ecological fragility. What he has photographed constantly – in varying shades of grey – is what has been lost and what remains” and that “his work’s other great subtext” is silence.
Robert Adams, White churches of the Plains; examples from Colorado. Written & photographed by Robert Hickman Adams. With a foreword by Thomas Hornsby Ferril. Boulder, Colorado Associated University Press, 1970.
Robert Adams, The architecture and art of early Hispanic Colorado, Boulder, Colorado Associated University Press, 1974.
Robert Adams, The new West : landscapes along the Colorado Front Range, Boulder, Colorado Associated University Press, 1974.
Robert Adams, Why people photograph : selected essays and reviews, New York : Aperture, ca. 1994.