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photo-eye Book Reviews: What Can We Believe Where?

What Can We Believe Where?, Photographs by Robert Adams.
Published by Yale University Press, 2010.
What Can We Believe Where?
Reviewed by Tom Leininger
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Robert Adams What Can We Believe Where?
Photographs by Robert Adams, with an afterword by Joshua Chuang and Jock Reynolds.
Yale University Press, New Haven, 2010. Softcover. 120 pp., 110 tritone illustrations, 7x9-3/4".

Robert Adams is one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century. He is prolific with both the image and written word. What Can We Believe Where? brings together his best known works of the last 40 years into one book. It is more than just a best of collection. This is Adams on Adams, he selected the images for the book himself from the holdings at Yale University.

Adams also helps the reader understand the artistic framework from which he has worked for so long. In the forward, Adams writes of the three questions he asks himself when photographing: "What does our geography compel us to believe? What does it allow us to believe? And what obligations, if any, follow from our beliefs?" These questions are both a challenge and guide to the reader.

What Can We Believe Where?, by Robert Adams. Published by Yale University Press, 2010.
Adams' early work posses the voice of a fully formed photographer. Much like the first photographers who traveled west to record the landscape, Adams shows us the modern day manifest destiny of the suburbs. It is presented in clear terms. It is the life he lived and he shows what it looked like. could be read as a critique, but it is more of an insider's view. What is the reader to believe? Where else would these people go? These later day settlers needed homes and the suburbs were built. Adams shows us a place that was once in transition.

What Can We Believe Where?, by Robert Adams. Published by Yale University Press, 2010.
 Toward the end of the book his current work from the West Coast shows us a land that is still in transition. These images are a reminder of what the original American western landscape was about, a recording of facts for those back East who may never see it in person. Adams is more pointed in his intentions by asking the reader to what obligations we might have to this geography. Is Adams suggesting that his work is a reaction to the land and not just a documentation of it?

What Can We Believe Where?, by Robert Adams. Published by Yale University Press, 2010.
 More books need to be made like this one. This book is well printed and due to its size, travels well. The writing helps the reader understand the work, without taking the mystery from it. Overall, this is the one of the strongest books I have seen in a long time. Adams is a master of his medium this book celebrates it.—Tom Leininger







Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net. 

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