Robert Adams

Robert Adams, On Humbug Mountain, Clatsop County, Oregon, from Turning Back: A Photographic Journey, 1999-2003

This ambitious series of 164 photographs was inspired by the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark’s historic expedition through the Northwest Territory. Between 1999 and 2003, Adams partially retraced the explorers’ path in reverse. Beginning at the mouth of the Columbia River, the traveled inland through the Cascade Mountains and ended his own abbreviated journey in the plains of eastern Oregon.

All too predictably, Adams’s photographic record of his historical backtracking documents a parallel reversal of fortune for the natural glory of the Pacific Northwest. As many of these pictures demonstrate, nearly ass the ancient, old-growth forests that greeted the arrival of Lewis and Clark have been harvested by timber companies in the intervening centuries, mostly within the past several decades. This exploitation is expressed by numerous images of vast, unrelieved stretches of felled trees, or the occasional close-up of a massive, violently uprooted stump. But Adams also trains his camera on many ordinary scenes of the contemporary Oregon landscape, as when he shoots a roadside meadow framed by a stand of small,  unremarkable pines. Though quieter and less dramatic, the very banality of such pictures speaks volumes to the loss of a regional wilderness that once inspired nothing less than awe.

Wallis, Brian, et al, eds. Ecotopia: The Second ICP Triennial of Photography and Video. New York: International Center of Photography; Göttingen: Steidl, 2006, p. 28.

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