This is just what happens in This Day. These photographs, taken primarily in the proximity of Astoria, present landscapes bound up with culture, encountered in the midst of. By entering into the distinctions of these places close to home at a significant level, Adams show how light and weather and waves have shaped the world as we know it, and how we, in turn, are shaped and shaping it. Again, it this all seems a huge task for any of us – in light of a culture of placelessness, in light of massive environmental concerns – to even know how or where to begin, Adams photographs firmly say, start here. These tomatoes. Those nasturtiums. This day.
The opening series of five photographs serves as a good example of a structure Adams repeats over the course of the book. In the first photograph, a pair of tomatoes sit inside ripening next to a potted geranium, and a window sash breaks the soft focus of leaves and light outside. Turn the page to a diptych of nasturtiums, seen from above, potted, on a table cloth with an embroidered vine. In the first, the edible leaves and flowers are identifiable, nameable, in focus against the gray tablecloth. In the second, the angle is similar, though the sun has come out; leaves, vase, flowers blown out in the white sunlight. Turn the page to a large landscape, the stubbly beach grass rising up a dune, the shore barely discernable from the clouds in the sky. And turn the page again to an image with a mowed lawn in the foreground, and then thick vegetation spilling over and pushing against a white wood fence.
The captions in the back could identify these locations, but in the images it seems clear: for all of the complexity and order of the largest of these landscapes, the same structure is at work on the smallest scale, at home, the vase of nasturtiums. Adams three times uses this device, pulling back to the house, the front yard, the potted plants, and then broadening back out to describe a similar order but on different scales. This work of place-making is at its best and most useful when it recognizes the reciprocity of natural process and human cultures, and that to begin this work may just be to recognize this on the smallest of scales, close at hand, these nasturtiums, this day and every day.
Brent Aldrich is Art Editor of The Englewood Review of Books.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com