When art is ‘a lie in the service of truth’

Adams book cover IMG_2459

Over the weekend, I received a letter from a friend, who included an essay torn from a recent New York Times Sunday magazine. It was a piece on the photography of Robert Adams, one of the most sensitive and ultra-aware artists in our country.

I had already read the essay, by Teju Cole, whose thoughtful writing reflected the sensibility of Adams’ work. Like many, I have been a fan of Adams’ work for years. He lived and worked in Colorado for many years before moving to the Oregon coast. I almost posted the story here right away, but it got bumped for something else. His photographs resonate, but so does his writing.

Now, though, as we enter a week of addressing the concept of thanks, friends, family, and no gifts aside from sharing with people we care about, the essay on Adams seemed right for today

What Adams has created is a look at the land and what we have done with it. Sometimes his images deal with “the open road,” and sometimes it’s all about trees. And, of course, Adams has shown us the bleakness and reality of man-made buildings that now populate the West, tearing at our heart and yet knowing that we have to live somewhere (like the photograph above on the cover of the 1995 book What We Bought: The New World, Scenes From the Denver Metropolitan Area 1970-1974, published by Spectrum).

None of the images are identified in What We Bought, but as I was going back through several of Adams’ books, it struck me that his work was sort of an artistic and gentle predecessor of Denver FUGLY. Except these books are more gentle in their approach. The volume is lowered.

It was an honor to interview Adams in the summer of 1994, right after it was announced that he was a recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant. Adams was living in Longmont at the time, and was busy printing images for three new books. He was busy, but he took the time to do an interview. As I transcribed the tape made during the interview while sitting in the Adams’ kitchen, I felt as if I had gone into a trance. It was that good.

The story ended on this note:

“It seems that photography, painting, literature, they’re all, in a sense, a lie in the service of truth,” he said. “All simplifications, all sorting out facts that you can say something about the world. If you just get a great dollop of the world unsorted, unfiltered, the experience you and I have most of the time, hour by hour, minute by minute, it’s just one damn thing after another. Nothing links. Art tries to take out a little of the adventure.”

Below is a link to the Times’ magazine essay on Robert Adams.


2 Replies to “When art is ‘a lie in the service of truth’”

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