Looking at the Land

The editing itself is an art and we’re moving more and more toward a world where “curating” or editing the massive archive of images available to us will actually be the true skill over the creation of an image.

—My post on The Last Pictures

Andy Adams’s Looking at the Land collection comes at a very interesting time. “Curation” is the big buzz word now and, despite the fact that it’s over- and mis-used, it’s a great thing the concept of editing and illuminating a massive collection of images is increasingly-viewed as a creative act. There have been a number of these projects coming out recently too. Looking at the Land is one of the best.

In my post about editing and art, I discussed photographers whose work is edited by someone else yet is still presented as their work. In my government documents post, I discussed projects where the editors are credited instead of the photographers. Looking at the Land manages to do both. The photographers are important and identified. But so is the editor. Unlike museums where the curation kind of fades back into corporate identity, this is very much one man’s vision.

And it’s a good one which takes a very different approach to the post-New Topographics thing than Robert Adams does. This is suburbia, all grown up; as seen by all of us who grew up there and have begun questioning the concepts and values which the ’burbs represent. Manicured landscaping has matured. Tract homes and strip malls have aged and, shockingly, developed character. New developments and construction reveal how vapid the original developments must have been.

As we look around at the mature suburban landscape, we see the contrasts where nature is reasserting itself. Planters and barriers which used to keep us out now keep nature in. Those same planters have made us accustomed to seeing nature framed by manmade structures. When we’re inside, we look out of picture windows. When we’re outside, we drive next to medians filled with plants or walk along sidewalks with a parking strip between us and the road.

So yeah. I really like this collection. I like the images and I like seeing them all together. That I’ve been shooting things like this and that I think everyone my age with my background kind of does this too only helps me enjoy it more.

A lot of the quality comes from the strength of the concept. As I’ve been seeing more and more “curation” it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the clearer the concept, the stronger the piece. Much of the criticism of Doug Rickard, while never explicitly articulated, seems to be reacting to the fact that his concept isn’t strong enough and never transcends “cool things I found on Google.” Andy Adams’s first project like this, 100 portraits, felt thin to me for similar reasons. The photos were all good and interesting but I couldn’t get a good sense of the concept beyond “images I like.”

As for examples of where the concept works. Full Moon is fantastic and has a very focused archive and a very focused concept. The Last Pictures is also a great example because the concept is so evocative that you can’t help but start thinking about it.

Looking at the Land’s concept is strong enough too. We all know the American suburb. There’s a generation of photographers who grew up there and have mature, mixed feelings about it. But they also really know the territory. The results are images which allow us to both appreciate and question how suburbia has shaped our views of nature and the built environment.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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