Gratitude and Engagement


In photographer Robert Adams’ earlier collection of essays, Beauty in Photography he wrote one of our favorite phrases about the purpose of making art. Adams suggests that among the chief purposes is “to keep intact an affection for life”.

In his latest book, Art Can Help, Robert Adams continues to champion art that fights against disillusionment and despair. Instead of highlighting his own work, Adams writes over two dozen meditations on the work of photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Dorothea Lange, Edward Ranney, and many more, including the painter Edward Hopper.


Robert Adams, photo by Kerstin Adams, 2004

“More than anything else, beauty is what distinguishes art. Beauty is never less than a mystery, but it has within it a promise.

In this way, art encourages us to gratitude and engagement, and is of both personal and civic consequence.” — Robert Adams

From Art Can Help:


Frank Gohlke, Abandoned Grain Elevator, Kansas, 1973

“Frank Gohlke’s photograph appears in his book Measure of Emptiness (1992), which records elevators short and tall, made of wood or metal or concrete, and located out by themselves or in town. At first the book seems almost taxonomic in purpose, but as one studies the pictures it becomes apparent that what energizes Gohlke’s photography is his hope that we will like the elevators. In common with every artist, Gohlke I’m sure felt that his subject was better than any picture he could make of it, but he kept trying because what he really wanted was to convince us to visit places like it. Go there, great pictures urge us.”


Eric Paddock, Cedarwood, Colorado, 1991

“I am asked with surprising frequency, ‘How do you know where to make pictures?’ To the extent there is a rule, the answer is that it is usually where you stop long enough. Eric has that discipline, and in consequence the freedom to explore a gift.”

82283, 2005.51.33

Emmet Gowin, Sedan Crater, Yucca Flat, Nevada Test Site, 1996

“Like many artists, Gowin feels a personal responsibility. ‘What we all want in our lives,’ he has written, is ‘a way to put ourselves into accord with the mystery out of which we came and into which we will return.”


Edward S. Curtis, The Blanket Weaver, Navajo, 1904

“Edward Curtis’s picture of a Navajo weaver is one that for years I have kept above my desk. It is the very image of home.”

Robert Adams has for over fifty years photographed the changing American West. He has produced many books over his career, including The Place We Live, a three-volume retrospective, published by the Yale University Art Gallery:


For more on Robert Adams’ work be sure to visit The Place We Live website!


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