Here’s a collection of my favorite quotes by photographer Robert Adams.
“Henry James proposed asking of art three modest and appropriate questions: What is the artist trying to do? Does he do it? Was it worth doing?” – Robert Adams
“The history of art is filled with people who did not live long enough to enjoy a sympathetic public, and their misery argues that criticism should try to speed justice.” – Robert Adams
“Philosophy can forsake too easily the details of experience… many writers and painters have demonstrated that thinking long about what art is or ought to be ruins the power to write or paint.” – Robert Adams
“C.S. Lewis admitted, when he was asked to set forth his beliefs, that he never felt less sure of them than when he tried to speak of them. Photographers know this frailty. To them words are a pallid, diffuse way of describing and celebrating what matters. Their gift is to see what will be affecting as a print. Mute. ” ― Robert Adams
“Part of the difficulty in trying to be both an artist and a businessperson is this: You make a picture because you have seen something beyond price; then you are to turn and assign to your record of it a cash value. If the selling is not necessarily a contradiction of the truth in the picture, it is so close to being a contradiction—and the truth is always in shades of gray–that you are worn down by the threat.” – Robert Adams
“Your own photography is never enough. Every photographer who has lasted has depended on other peoples pictures too – photographs that may be public or private, serious or funny but that carry with them a reminder of community.” – Robert Adams
“…the only things that distinguish the photographer from everybody else are his pictures: they alone are the basis for our special interest in him. If pictures cannot be understood without knowing details of the artist’s private life, then that is a reason for faulting them; major art, by definition, can stand independent of its maker.” – Robert Adams
“How can we hope, after all, to see a tree or rock or clear north sky if we do not adopt a little of their mode of life, a little of their time? …if the time it takes to cross space is a way by which we define it, then to arrive at a view of space “in no time” is to have denied its reality…” ― Robert Adams
“If as individuals we can improve the geography only slightly, if at all, perhaps the more appropriately scaled subject for reshaping is ourselves.” ― Robert Adams
“I have asked students at the beginning of their careers, what things of that sort might haunt them – what things they must photograph, things they have to try to shoot even before they master the intricacies of making dye transfer prints.” – Robert Adams
“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands before our camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect–a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.” – Robert Adams
“One does not for long wrestle a view camera in the wind and heat and cold just to illustrate a philosophy. The thing that keeps you scrambling over the rocks, risking snakes, and swatting at the flies is the view. It is only your enjoyment of and commitment to what you see, not to what you rationally understand, that balances the otherwise absurd investment of labor.” – Robert Adams
“No place is boring, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film.” – Robert Adams
“The job of the photographer, in my view, is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope.” – Robert Adams
“By Interstate 70: a dog skeleton, a vacuum cleaner, TV dinners, a doll, a pie, rolls of carpet….Later, next to the South Platte River: algae, broken concrete, jet contrails, the smell of crude oil…. What I hope to document, though not at the expense of surface detail, is the form that underlies this apparent chaos.” – Robert Adams
“Why is Form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us confront our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.” – Robert Adams
“The word beauty is unavoidable … it accounts for my decision to photograph … There appeared a quality, beauty seemed the only appropriate word for it, in certain photographs, and I am compelled to live with the vocabulary of this new sight … through over many years [I] still find it embarrassing to use the word beauty, I fear I will be attacked for it, but I still believe in it.” – Robert Adams
“Why do most great pictures look uncontrived? Why do photographers bother with the deception, especially since it so often requires the hardest work of all? The answer is, I think, that the deception is necessary if the goal of art is to be reached: only pictures that look as if they had been easily made can convincingly suggest that beauty is commonplace.” – Robert Adams
“What we hope for from the artist is help in discovering the significance of a place. In this sense we would choose in most respects for thirty minutes with Edward Hopper’s painting Sunday Morning to thirty minutes on the street that was his subject; with Hopper’s vision we see more.” – Robert Adams
“Silence is, after all, the context for the deepest appreciation of art: the only important evaluations are finally, personal, interior ones.” – Robert Adams
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