ERB, Vol 1 , #4

The Englewood Review of Books

Vol. 1, No. 4    25 January 2008

Diving for pearls in the endless stream of books (Eccles. 12:12B)

Chris Smith, editor




“A Vision of Disparities Reconciled”


A review of

Robert Adams’

Why People Photograph.

By Brent Aldrich.



Robert Adams has been photographing around his home in the American West since the 1970s. His earliest images of tract houses and suburbs meeting the landscape were part of a seminal photography show in 1975, the New Topographics, photographers interested in documents of place. Adams has been reexamining the American West in a way that addresses issues of land use/abuse, what he calls “the hand of man upon the land.” Rather than idealize a mythical notion of landscape, he examines a new geography of tract houses, strip mines, and nuclear arms facilities.

            Adams has published several books of essays alongside his photographic work. Why People Photograph is a 1994 collection of essays, written after decades of photographing. In it, he presents a model for photography – and art in general – as a practice of affirming order and resisting evil, of working from one’s own locality, and as a means of hope.

            Central to Adams’ arguments for art is that it functions as a “record [of] one of those brief times…when we are allowed to understand that the Creation is whole” (181). His model for an art practice, then, is to reveal this form visually. The underlying wholeness of Creation is intended to be represented by the wholeness of a picture plane. Adams cites Job as “reconciled to life…by being reminded of mysteries that are part of a Creation in which all elements are subordinate to a design; the world, God tells Job, is a ‘vast expanse,’ but regulated by seasons, the heavens are immense but divided and given shape by stars..” (148).

Using the model of coherence of vision and structure, several essays in this volume are about individual photographers working alongside or before Adams; these give particular attention to the subjects of images, as it is in content that art becomes useful in engaging a community, within a structure of wholeness.

Just as Adams asserts that art is useful in revealing “coherence and peace,” (60) so it must in turn “suggest that evil is not final” (181). In these practices, there is the sense that art must be a model of a kingdom not of this world, indeed, of the reconciliation of all things to God. In affirming a divine order even in light of our degradation of land and community, Adams suggests that another world is, in fact, possible, and already among us. His own photographs are useful in that they present us with our own destructiveness, our inability to imagine another economy, and yet the order and form he employs are means to overcome this death. They present a model for hope in a new kingdom, a “landscape of hope,” (182) Adams says.

Much of Adams’ concern is for a reconciliation with the land; he presents other possibilities of practices along with art in which we might come to wholeness with the land: gardening, walking, and the sharing of place with family and friends (175-6). Throughout the essays, there is an affinity with Wendell Berry’s model of localities, community, love and participation with the order of the land as a part of a larger Creation.

Adams’ essays are, of course, secondary to his photographs in which he speaks most clearly as a visual artist, but the writing serves as a helpful framework for his work, as well as for other visual arts.

Why People Photograph is useful for a people who desire the reconciliation of all the world to the order of God at the Creation. Robert Adams believes that art is best suited to help us imagine this order as found in the context of a fallen world:  “Art is a discovery of harmony, a vision of disparities reconciled, of shape beneath confusion. Art does not deny that evil is real, but it places it in a context that implies an affirmation; the structure of the picture, which is a metaphor for the structure of the Creation, suggests that evil is not final.” (181)



Why People Photograph.

Robert Adams. Trade paperback.  Aperture.  1996.

              Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ]   [ ]



[ A note on buying books: We offer you the opportunity to buy the books listed here, either directly from our little independent bookstore (Doulos Christou Books), or through  The prices listed for our bookstore do not include shipping or Indiana sales tax.  Local folks can arrange to pick up their books from either our Lockerbie or Englewood stores.  If you want to buy a book and are having trouble with the links in this email, drop us an email – – and we’ll see that you get the book(s) you want. ]




Used Book Finds


The bread-n-butter of our bookstore business is the sale of used books, and we do a fair amount of scouting around for used books each week.  In this section we will feature some of the interesting books that we have found in the past week.  Generally, we will only have a single copy of these books, so if you want one (or more) of them, you’ll need to respond quickly.



Cut Loose Your Stammering Tongue:

   Black Theology in the Slave Narratives.

       Dwight N. Hopkins  and George Cummings.

       Trade Paperback.  Orbis Books. 1991. 

       Very Good.  Clean pages / Moderate wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $7 ]


Liberating Grace. 

Leonardo Boff. Trade Paperback.

              Orbis Books.  1979. Very Good.

              Clean pages / Minimal wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $7 ]



The Last Temptation of Christ.

       The Novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.

              Trade Paperback.  1990 Printing. Very Good.

              Clean pages / Very minimal wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $7 ]





Reviewed Elsewhere


Poet Luci Shaw reminisces about the life and work

of her friend the late Madeleine L’Engle.

Madeleine L’Engle. A powerful woman, large-hearted, fearless, quixotic, profoundly imaginative, unwilling to settle for mediocrity. Tall and queenly, she physically embodied her mental and spiritual attributes. I remember occasions when, in church during Advent, she would rise to full height, spread her arms wide like the Angel of the Annunciation, and declare, “Fear not!” in a tone that allowed no gainsaying. It was a challenge impossible to ignore.

She loved God and his children, but this didn’t keep her from questioning and questing in pursuit of truth, which she never equated with fact. Without ever being a scientist herself, she had an uncanny understanding of some of the principles of physics, and the thrust of her life was to integrate her sense of the largeness, diversity, and unity of the universe with the spiritual principles she found in Scripture and her daily practice and rule of life. … ”

   Read the full review:


Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Buy now (paperback) from: 

      [ Doulos Christou Books  $6 ]         [ ]


Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

Buy now (hardcover) from: 

      [ Doulos Christou Books  $11 ]         [ ]

Other books by Madeleine L’Engle:   [ ]



Peace Activist Michael Westmoreland-White provides a wonderful
             introductory bibliography to the life and work of
             of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There are numerous biographies of King, but many are written for children or are hagiographic (reinforcing the plastic saint mistake) or have numerous factual errors due to poor research.  But there are 2 excellent one-volume biographies on King:

David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Vintage Books, 1986) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Harper & Row, 1982).

If you have time and can either afford it or have access to library copies, I also highly recommend the 3-volume work by Taylor Branch which chronicles King’s public life in the context of the wider social history of the U.S. at the same time.

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (Simon & Schuster, 1988).

Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965 (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968 (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

… ”

Read the full bibliography:   

David J. Garrow. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC.
Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $16 ]         [ ]

Stephen B. Oates. Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr..
        Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $14 ]         [ ]



The Jesuit magazine America offers us a superb introduction
            to the work of the musical group The Hold Steady


“ … Since their 2004 debut, Almost Killed Me, The Hold Steady have fashioned what can perhaps best be described as a literary and musical universe, populated by recurring characters seeking hope and forgiveness amidst their own brokenness and the harsh realities of life at the margins of polite society. Their most recent album, 2006’s Boys and Girls in America, with a title borrowed from Jack Kerouac, has garnered extensive critical praise, with many commentators recognizing influences as diverse as Bruce Springsteen and the poet Jim Carroll. Combining a classic sound with literary imaginings perhaps more at home in a Flannery O’Connor story, The Hold Steady are a bold new voice on the rock scene, providing much-needed spiritual depth and sophistication to an audience hungry for more than the latest musical fashion. …”

Read the full article: 

The Hold Steady has free mp3 versions of several songs here:

The latest cd from The Hold Steady:
    Boys and Girls in America.
    Buy now from: 
[ ]

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

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-Karen Swallow Prior

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