Originally from Orange, New Jersey, Robert Adams came to photography in 1963 when earning a Ph.D in English at the University of Southern California. While teaching English at Colorado College in 1967, he photographed residential areas around Colorado Springs at the request of the organizers of a conference on the western landscape. His interests shifted from the primarily rural landscape to urban and suburban landscapes, and in photographing the latter, he concentrated on the man-made incursions on the natural landscape. This work was published in The New West: Landscapes Along the Front Range (1974) and Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area (1977). More recently, Adams has reincorporated the rural landscape into his work, in such books as Our Lives & Our Children: Photographs Taken Near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (1984) and Cottonwoods (1994). He has earned many distinctions, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (in 1973 and 1978), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1973). He was included in the 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House, which associated his work with that of Lewis Baltz and Stephen Shore, among others.
Adams's documentation of contemporary western landscapes reveals the environmental damage caused by the suburbanization of such cities as Denver, Portland, Seattle, and Salt Lake City, as well as by the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology in those areas. Adams describes his photography as an attempt to "reconcile" his disappointment with the behavior of people toward nature with his heartfelt respect for the unique landscape of the West. In accomplishing this aim, he draws on the tradition of black-and-white western landscape photography as practiced by Timothy O'Sullivan and Ansel Adams.
Lisa HostetlerHandy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 206.