Turning Back, Robert Adams' photography

Robert Adams Turning Back

Malheur National Forest, south of John Day, Grant County, Oregon, US, 1999.

Kerstin, next to an old-growth stump, Coos County, Oregon, US, 1999.

Near Halfway, Baker County, Oregon, US, 1999.

Near Clatskanie, Columbia County, Oregon, US, 1999.

On Humbug Mountain, Clatsop County, Oregon, United States, 1999.

Coos County, Oregon, United States, 1999.

Sitka Spruce, Cape Blanco State Park, Curry County, Oregon, United States, 1999.

On Humbug Mountain, Clatsop County, Oregon, United States, 1999.

Artist's Statement

Clear-cutting is a controversial forestry practice in which most or all trees in an area are uniformly cut down. More than 90 per cent of the original forest in the American Northwest has been clear-cut at least once. The large stumps in these pictures are remnants of ancient woods where trees commonly grow to be five hundred or more years old.

The small stumps are what is left of a recently ‘harvested’ monoculture, an industrial forest sustained by artificial fertilisers and selective herbicides and cut in its infancy.

Will this practice eventually exhaust the soil and end in permanent deforestation? There are numerous areas in the world where this has happened, among them parts of China, a country that has recently banned clear-cutting. Efforts to restrict clear-cutting in the American Northwest have, however, mostly failed. As I recorded these scenes, I found myself considering many questions, among them: Is there a relationship between clear-cutting and war, the landscape of one being in some respects like the landscape of the other? Does clear-cutting teach violence? Does it contribute to nihilism?

About the photographer


1937, New Jersey, United States



Based in

United States

About Robert Adams

Robert Adams was born in New Jersey and moved to Colorado as a teenager. Adams was a professor of English literature for several years before turning his full attention to photography in the mid 1970s. His work is largely concerned with moments of regional transition: the suburbanisation of Denver, a changing Los Angeles of the 1970s and 1980s and the clear-cutting in Oregon in the 1990s. His many books include The New WestFrom the Missouri WestSummer NightsLos Angeles SpringTo Make It HomeListening to the RiverWest From the ColumbiaWhat We BoughtNotes for FriendsCaliforniaSummer Nights: Walking, Gone?What Can We Believe Where? and The Place We Live. Adams has also written a number of critical essays on the art of photography, including Beauty in PhotographyWhy People Photograph and, most recently, Along Some Rivers. Among many awards Adams has received the Guggenheim Fellowship (1973), the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1994) and the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize (2006). In 2009, he was awarded the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography.

In 2010, Yale University Art Gallery organised an international touring retrospective that highlighted Adams’ four decades of work. The tour began in Vancouver, British Columbia and travelled to the Denver Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Josef Albers Museum Quadrat, Bottrop, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris and the National Media Museum, Bradford.