Beauty in photography: essays in defense of traditional values

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Aperture, 1989 - Photography - 108 pages
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These essays address us in the quiet voice of a working photographer, an artist and craftsman who has thought long and seriously about his endeavor, who has tested and questioned his own assumptions in the light of actual practice. The result is a rare book of criticism, one that is alive to the pleasure and mysteries of true exploration. Written over a ten-year period, and originally published in 1981, this timeless collection of writings now includes a new preface by the author.

Robert Adams possesses the wit to avoid cant, dogma, and platitudes of the scholar that can deaden our responses to the lively business of art. His eight essays pose a host of questions about photography's place in the arts-- and in our lives: How is photography art? By what standards are we to judge the success or failure of a photograph? His reflections are delicate, unusually calm, but they also carry the force of sure conviction, the passion of absolute dedication.

Few visual artists are capable of articulating the subtle, potent wellsprings of their own creative achievement. Adams does so with extraordinary grace and power. This book offers not only an insight to the work of a distinguished photographer, but also an illuminating challenge and corrective to the usual pieties and pettiness of photography criticism today.

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A curious collection of short essays that, reveal their origins in the cursory style intrinsic to many magazines. As magazine articles, they would have acquitted themselves splendidly. However, this same brevity in a book of this nature becomes its Achilles heel. As a loose collection of essays skirting the subject of beauty it succeeds. However, as a cogent philosophy on beauty in photography it's very brevity delivers a superficial gloss at best.
On reflection, I can't help but wonder if the fault here lies not with the author but with it's publisher whom, under commercial pressures to publish or perish thought that assembling a loose collection of fairly unconnected essays would somehow slip under the radar of the discerning reader? I say this for two reasons. Firstly, that the author has seen fit to include an apology with regard to his lack of writing rigour in the book's foreword.
Secondly, I would argue that no person in their right mind could expect to deal with the gritty issues of aesthetic philosophy in as little as one hundred pages. Unfortunately, the cursory way these are assembled do neither the author or publishers any favours as the subject of beauty requires substantially more rigour, depth and analysis.
Perhaps this book would have been more accurately titled: A collection of short essays on photography by Robert Adams.
However, if you know little of aesthetic philosophy and wish to whet your appetite in broad terms on beauty and aesthetics delivered in Robert's eloquent yet clear writing style, then this book will hold your attention for the two hours it takes to read it.

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About the author (1989)

Robert Adams worked for eight years as a college English teacher before becoming a photographer. His pictures, most of which record the development of the American West, have been widely collected, exhibited, and reproduced. Adams has been awarded the Spectrum International Prize for Photography as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations.

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