California, an exhibition of photographs by Robert Adams, will be on view at Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, from November 2 through December 29, 2000. Made over a period of six years, from 1978–1983, the exhibition presents an opportunity to see this little-known body of photographs for the first time.
No artist has a visual language for speaking about landscape, the politics of development, urbanization, and the eradication of the natural environment quite like that of Robert Adams. His photographs taken of the Los Angeles Basin, while they illustrate the extinction of a natural topography, evidence the birth of a new world—one which marries the rural with refuse—with an unexpected sort of optimism. The photographs included in this exhibition are of the environmental hybrids everywhere evident in the Los Angeles of the time: an abandoned, pocked mattress underneath a fecund tree; the glowing asphalt of two-lane streets cutting elegant Vs back and forth across an otherwise uninterrupted landscape.
Of his own work Adams has stated, “The operating principle that seems to work best is to go to the landscape that frightens you the most and take pictures until you’re not scared anymore.” His project is not to moralize or to condemn, but to observe and to abstract his observed world into photographs to offer for public interpretation. At the outset of this project, in 1978, Adams said, “As I understand my job, it is, while suggesting order, to make things appear as much as possible to be the way they are in normal vision.”
Though made from the late seventies to the early 1980s, many considered this work too difficult and unsettling to be exhibited or published at the time. In conjunction with Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, Fraenkel Gallery has published a fully-illustrated hardcover catalog that accompanies this exhibition. With an introduction by Robert Hass, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, the catalog includes fifty-seven tritone reproductions.