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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 30, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

WHY PEOPLE PHOTOGRAPH by Robert Adams. (Aperture: $16.95; 186 pp.) "If I like many photographers," writes Adams, chronicler of the American West, "and I do, I account for this by noting a quality they share--animation. They may or may not make a living by photography, but they are alive by it." It seems that this springiness we all recognize as a quality many photographers possess comes from the element of surprise associated with their craft: "They do not know where in the world they will find pictures. Nobody does. Each photograph that works is a revelation to its supposed creator." The book is a long celebratory essay of this art form, for whose artists the very need to use words signifies failure. It is a dance through the photographs of Gary Winogrand, Paul Strand, Laura Gilpin, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Eugene Atget, Edward Weston and many others. It outlines what is noble and necessary in the life of a photographer (for example, the importance of dogs, because "Art depends on there being affection in its creator's life, and an artist must find ways, like everyone else, to nourish it"). Adams writes about photographing one plateau northwest of Denver over two decades, a place he has chosen because it is near his home and because it is emblematic of the destruction of the West. "Art does not deny that evil is real," he writes of this destruction, "but it places evil in a context that implies an affirmation," suggesting "that evil is not final."

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