On Friday, renowned photographer Tod Papageorge discussed how Robert Adams has left his mark on the world of photography.
In front of an audience of about 50 art enthusiasts and aspiring photographers, Papageorge delivered a lecture on the Yale University Art Gallery’s exhibit “Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs.” The exhibit, which opened Aug. 3, is the first conclusive look back at Adams’ work, detailing the American experience through 193 prints taken over almost 50 years, Papageorge said. Though some critics discuss Adams’ photos as an “ecology” of the American West, Papageorge said he aimed to analyze the exhibit from the perspective of an artist.
A professor at the School of Art, Papageorge began his own career as a photographer in New York City during the 1970s as a contemporary of Adams. He recalled his first encounter with Adams’ work at a 1971 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, explaining that he found the style, rather than the subject, of the photos the most striking. Adams’ work, in Papageorge’s eyes, is defined by a tension between its own beauty and the realistic subjects it often depicts.
“Art is interesting to the degree that it describes the solution and incorporates the difficulty of achieving the solution,” Papageorge said.
Jock Reynolds, the director of the Gallery, said that Papageorge was uniquely qualified to give the talk on Adams, since he was a contemporary of Adams and knew his work so well.
“[It was] a very generative time of photography as a medium,” Reynolds said.
Papageorge began his lecture by acknowledging the impossibility of addressing Adams’ entire canon of work. Instead, he highlighted individual photos from many of Adams’ projects, reading descriptive passages from a 2001 essay he published in Adams’ catalogue entitled “What We Bought.” These excerpts illuminated the importance of minor details in each shot, though Papageorge also engaged the audience in a more technical discussion about Adams’ use of different cameras and ways of developing his film.
Lizzy Chappini, a member of a photography class at Bard College that visited New Haven for the talk, said she appreciated Papageorge’s rich understanding of Adams’ work.
“I love the exhibit — particularly hearing about it from someone so knowledgeable,” she said “I like that [Papageorge] contextualizes the photos on such a grand scale.”
The exhibit, curated by the Gallery’s assistant photography curator Joshua Chang and Reynolds, runs through Oct. 28.