BOOK: Beauty In Photography by Robert Adams
Essay four Photographing Evil
05 March 2018
Beauty in photography is a book of short essays by photographer and author Robert Adams, written as claimed in the inside cover by the quiet voice of a working photographer, artist and craftsman who has long thought about his endeavour.
Essay four “Photographing Evil” reflects on Adams angst at failing to demonstrate evil in his photography, he opens the essay by describing the uneasy feeling he had about taking images of mines that were beautiful and did not convey the evil that they inflict on the world he talks of the wrongness of “the carcinogenic residues that were being dumped into streams and air” and of “the broken social patterns that mines bought to nearby towns” He ended up feeling somehow inadequate for the task of creating images that reflected these thuings. he was, however, heartened by the fact that many more worthy photographers seemed to have fallen short of this too, often seeming not to notice what was happening around them in the world.
He also notes that when you look at individual works such as Paul Strands “Woman, Patzcuaro” he realises that it was not a failure at all. He claims that “Photographers have been held to a different set of responsibilities than have painters and sculptors” and comes back to that premise that “Photographers want to and can give us the objective truth”, I am not sure this is a universal truth, I think its possible but not always the goal. He cites the criticism given to Bruce Davidson for carefully posing the subjects when in East 100th Street.
He then goes on to pose a rather wild question: “are the greatest paintings and sculptures generally speaking those that deal with evil” then immediately says that he thinks not! I tend to agree I don’t think the idea would have crossed my mind as it seems to me to be only one point of view, I can think of a lot of great art that has nothing to do with evil, but as an undergraduate, I guess I don’t have an opinion yet.
This essay continues to discuss the motivation for photographic art with some suggestion that it is all about some sort of social consciousness mixed with a duty to reveal evil wherever we find it. I have struggled with this since starting the degree in 2012, my first experiences on study trips etc seemd to suggest that to be a photographer on note you had to be an angry marksist or at least really angry about something, over the years I have seen lots of this and I felt it was what drove some photographers but I also feel “ANGRY” (just kidding) at being put in a box like this where my work will be less effective or relevant if I dont take on these traits, personally my own moral fibre is drawn more to releif and charity and to kindness and these are the things that stir me more than evil. all in all a very thought-provoking essay.
Adams final point on the matter is “When we are young, we want art that is filled with bitter facts, because we believe that evil can be overcome if we face it; when we grow older and begin to doubt this optimistic belief, we want art that does not simply reinforce the pain of our disillusionment.”