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Los Angeles Spring: Reviewed by Blake Andrews

Book Review Los Angeles Spring Photographs by Robert Adams Reviewed by Blake Andrews “The first thing to know about Los Angeles Spring is that it contains no actual photographs of Los Angeles. Instead, its pictures explore the city’s far eastern outskirts along Interstate 10, the freeway to Palm Springs..."

Los Angeles Spring. By Robert Adams.
Los Angeles Spring
Photographs by Robert Adams
Steidl, Gottingen, Germany, 2023. 120 pp., 56 illustrations, 13½x15½".

The first thing to know about Los Angeles Spring is that it contains no actual photographs of Los Angeles. Instead, its pictures explore the city’s far eastern outskirts along Interstate 10, the freeway to Palm Springs. It’s a relatively season-less place, and a more accurate name for the book might be "I-10 Springs." A few highway onramps appear in the book, but there is no city of angels, nor much of anything else heavenly.

It was here, in the vast territory between the San Bernardino Mountains and Orange County, that Robert Adams found his muse. Readers might want to keep a map handy while browsing the various photo sites, to help track his wanderings. Captions identify locations like Pomona, Redlands, Fontana, Colton, Rancho Cucamonga, and Loma Linda. They may have unique names, but the town borders are indistinct. One community bleeds into the next, sprawling collectively into a morass of farmland, roads, orchards, and exurbs. When Adams shot there in the early 1980s, the area was already showing the stress of suburban expansion, with farmlands giving way to subdivisions. Housing developments have only encroached further in the interim.

Adams takes a dismal view of such trends, and of Manifest Destiny in general. We’ve mucked up nature’s bequest, as far as he’s concerned. “All that is clear is the perfection of what we have been given,” he writes in the preface, “the unworthiness of our response, and the certainty, in view of our current deprivation, that we are judged.” In this case, the judge is Adams himself. Photography’s favorite misanthrope has built a long career highlighting the perils of wanton development, from the New Topographics through monographs like The New West, On Lookout Mountain, and Turning Back. Lest the message of those books be somehow misinterpreted, there’s even a title called Eden.

Los Angeles Spring
opens innocently enough, with photographs of rural roads infringing gently upon hillsides. We pick up the pace through agricultural fields, byways, and eucalyptus groves, before a defoliated orchard signals choppy waters ahead. The pictures become more blunt from this point, as their critique of civilization is flushed into the open. There’s a telephone pole overlooking crushed cactus, an old tire near an abandoned windbreak, power lines adorning a rock cliff, a scrappy freeway berm, a tracked up mud puddle, and so on. Litter and human detritus are a continual nuisance. The air hangs thick, possibly with smog or humidity? If Spring is a metaphor for optimism, these photos don’t feel very seasonal. Eventually, after many such documents, Adams finishes up with a small photo flurry in, of all places, Long Beach. This is a port city far removed from the I-10 corridor, and it shows. No sign of farmers here. The neighborhoods are dense with streets and housing. It may not be Los Angeles, but it’s a step in that direction.

The thing about Robert Adams is, even as he looks down his nose at us silly humans ravaging nature, his photos marvel at the consequences. His landscapes are infused with prosaic wonder, and an affinity for locale. He just can’t help it. Thus his picture of a lonely windbreak of trees in Redlands seems more defiant than gloomy. An arid landscape bulldozed for a cemetery in Colton becomes a garden of possibilities before Adams’ camera. A dry wash near Norton Air Base shows nature working diligently under a distant flight path. Wherever he directs his gaze, some attention falls upon the horizon. It’s as if a brighter future awaits. Hope springs eternal. Or at least Los Angeles springs. How should we understand such visions? Is the sky in fact falling on Babylon? Or is nature’s triumph finally at hand?

While we await judgement day, Steidl’s production weighs in on the side of beauty. It expands and improves on the 1986 Aperture original in every facet. The tome is huge, slipcased, and linen-bound, with additional photographs added. The cover image is held over, couched in a new design. Throughout the main body, quadratone reproductions are exquisite. They’re printed at large scale on heavy stock paper. There’s a good reason Los Angeles Spring is priced at a premium, because it’s about as close as a book might come to approximating a physical exhibition. Its photographs may reflect a dour take on SoCal hubris. Nevertheless the book is a triumph. It just can’t help itself.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at