Robert Adams, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968
January 1, 2012

Retrospective of American Photographer Robert Adams to Tour Internationally

PDF icon Press Release (PDF)

Organized by the Yale University Art Gallery, the multivenue traveling exhibition is now on view at the Denver Art Museum

Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs is an exhibition and accompanying publication organized by the Yale University Art Gallery that showcases the artistic legacy of the American photographer Robert Adams. Featuring nearly 300 works spanning Adams’s 45-year career, the retrospective opened at the Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia, in the fall of 2010, is now on view at the Denver Art Museum, and will travel to institutions throughout the United States and Europe through 2014.

Since becoming a photographer in the mid-1960s, Adams has been widely regarded as one of the most significant and influential chroniclers of the American West. He is best known for his austere, nuanced photographs of suburban development in Colorado during the late 1960s and early 1970s, images that first came to prominence through his seminal book The New West (1974). Other major projects include From the Missouri West, a series of expansive views of grand landscapes scarred by human intervention; Our Lives and Our Children, a disarmingly tender series of portraits of ordinary people going about their lives in the shadow of a nearby nuclear processing facility; Los Angeles Spring, a portrayal of a once-verdant paradise choked by violence and smog; Listening to the River, fragmentary views of rural and suburban Colorado locales that evoke the sensory pleasures of walking; and West from the Columbia and Turning Back, two bodies of work that explore the promise and ruin of the Pacific Northwestern area that Adams now calls home.

Robert Adams: The Place We Live traces Adams’s long engagement with American life and his pursuit of redemptive light and beauty amidst mankind’s increasingly tragic relationship with the natural world. Adams’s remarkable, often understated images resist simplification of subjects both ordinary and grand, precisely balancing the complexities and contradictions found in modern life. Taken as a whole, this exhibition elucidates the photographer’s civic goals: to consider the privilege of the place we were given and the obligations of citizenship—not only in the western United States but also, by extension, in the wider world.

Exhibition Overview

Featuring nearly 300 gelatin silver prints drawn from the Yale University Art Gallery’s master sets of the photographer’s work, Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs will weave together for the first time the various aspects of Adams’s four decades of work in the American landscape into a cohesive, epic narrative of the American experience in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Each of the photographer’s major projects will be represented, beginning with his early pictures of quiet buildings and monuments erected by prior settlers of his native Colorado and concluding with his most recent images of forests and migratory birds in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Also included in the exhibition are texts excerpted from Adams’s own articulate writings.

The reach of Adams’s work has been felt primarily through his publications, which number over 30 monographs and are an indispensable element of the artist’s creative practice. A selection of these books will be installed in cases and made available for viewing on reading tables in the exhibition, enabling visitors to experience Adams’s masterly use of the photographic book as a poetic medium in its own right. The exhibition opens at the Vancouver Art Gallery in September 2010 and will travel to a variety of national and international venues, including the Denver Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.


Born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1937, Robert Adams moved with his family from Madison, Wisconsin, to Denver, Colorado, at the age of 15. He earned a PH.D. from the University of Southern California and, intent on pursuing an academic career, returned to Colorado in 1962 as an assistant professor of English at Colorado College. Disturbed by the rapid transformation of the Colorado Springs and Denver areas—which Jack Kerouac had likened to “the Promised Land” less than a decade earlier—Adams began photographing a glorious landscape newly replete with tract housing, highways, strip malls, and gas stations. “The pictures record what we purchased, what we paid and what we could not buy,” Adams wrote. “They document a separation from ourselves, and in turn from the natural world that we professed to love.” Adams has also written insightful and eloquent essays on the practice and goals of art, which have been collected in the volumes Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values (1981) and Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews (1994). Since 1997, he has lived in Oregon, the landscape of which has been the setting of his last 20 years of work. Adams’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Denver Art Museum; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles—as well as a major midcareer retrospective organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1989.

Adams was also a key participant in such landmark exhibitions as New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975), organized by the International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York, and Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960 (1978), curated by John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. An entire room was devoted to Adams’s work in Cruel and Tender: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph, a major survey organized by the Tate Modern, London, in 2003. In 2002 What We Bought: The New World was exhibited in its entirety at the Yale University Art Gallery. Among the artist’s many awards are two Guggenheim Fellowships (1973 and 1980), two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1973 and 1978), a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1994), the Spectrum International Prize for Photography (1995), the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize (2006), and the Hasselblad Award (2009).

Exhibition Schedule

Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia
September 25, 2010–January 16, 2011

Denver Art Museum
September 25, 2011–January 2, 2012

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
March 11–June 3, 2012

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
August 3–October 28, 2012

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid January 22–May 13, 2013

Josef Albers Museum Quadrat, Bottrop, Germany
Summer 2013

Jeu de Paume, Paris
Fall 2013

Media Space, London, United Kingdom
Spring 2014 (a partnership between the Science Museum and National Media Museum)

Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland
Summer 2014

Exhibition Publications

Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs is accompanied by a fully illustrated, three-volume retrospective publication of the same title, published by the Yale University Art Gallery and distributed by Yale University Press. Featuring a total of over 400 plates, the first two volumes will reflect Robert Adams’s own uncompromising editing and sequencing of images and will include excerpts from his published texts. The third volume will provide a richer context with which to view Adams’s work through a detailed biographical chronology, an illustrated bibliography, selections from the photographer’s personal archive, and a series of scholarly and critical essays that will examine the photographs in great depth for the first time. The publication is available in the Gallery’s Bookstore ($250 three-volume hardcover). A second publication, What Can We Believe Where?: Photographs of the American West, published by the Yale University Art Gallery and distributed by Yale University Press, will also be issued in conjunction with the exhibition. This compact publication presents a sequence of over 100 images culled from Robert Adams’s entire body of work, as well as an introduction by the photographer and an afterword by the exhibition curators. The publication will be available in the Gallery’s Bookstore ($25 paperback).

Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs and its accompanying publications have been organized by Joshua Chuang, Assistant Curator of Photographs, and Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director, both of the Yale University Art Gallery, and have been made possible by Helen D. Buchanan; Allen K. Chasanoff, B.A. 1961; Lara Rubin Constable, B.A. 1989, and the Reed Foundation; Nathaniel W. Gibbons, B.A. 1979; Betsy and Frank Karel; Saundra B. Lane; Melanie and Rick Mayer, B.A. 1982, and the MFUNd; Mr. and Mrs. Alexander K. McLanahan, B.A. 1949; Ms. Eliot Nolen, B.A. 1984, and Mr. Timothy P. Bradley, B.A. 1983; Risher Randall, Sr., B.A. 1950; the Shamos Family Foundation; Mary Jo and Ted P. Shen, B.A. 1966, hon. 2001; the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund; and an endowment created with a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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