Hope is a risk that must be run
By Robert Adams
Hartmann Books, 2018
These photographs are at once naturalistic and disquieting, like stills from a film by Terrence Malick.
There are 19 photographs altogether, taken between 1979 and 1982, close to a nuclear weapons plant in Colorado. An accompanying text by Joshua Chuang informs us that this plant closed in 1989, but that there have been after-effects (unfortunately unspecified) on both public health and the natural environment since.
Some good number of photographs show adults with children, women carrying babies (which makes you wonder: did the effect on public health involve birth defects?); tenderness between the generations. There is a young couple holding hands; an elderly couple, arm-in-arm, dressed very formally for what looks like a summer’s day, so perhaps on their way to church.
Of course it is moving, this display of human community, but there is an inkling of fear and fragility too, as though everyone were bracing against an outside threat. So in one you see two women watching the sky, which is strangely overcast. It looks ominous until you realise that they are at a funfair and are probably just looking up at an attraction. Maybe.
Adams’s use of light and (open) space is unsettling. He subtly conveys the outsize scale of an American cityscape – all those tall buildings and wide streets – alongside cars bobbing upon a sea of concrete. In fact, cars and concrete can be seen everywhere and, when we do see nature (say, a mother and child playing in a park), it is nature that has been landscaped, groomed, tamed, diminished.
Another striking thing (and heartening too) about these photographs, looking at them now as the twenty-first century gathers pace, is that technology doesn’t come between people. You see a boy in the backseat of a car, his attention captured by what looks like a toy helicopter, and are surprised at the absence of a smartphone. 1982 was not really so very long ago, a matter of decades, but already it seems like another age.
One final comment about the title of the booklet, which is based on a quotation by Georges Bernanos: if you are dependent on hope, then you are surely already in a bad way. Far better – and how could Bernanos as a Catholic not have realised this? – to have faith. When you have faith, you will find that hope is not needed. And in this respect, Adams’s photograph of the elderly couple, arm-in-arm, stepping out on a summer day is, well, frankly exhilarating.
The publisher’s description of Hope is a risk that must be run can be read here.