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Robert Adams: Turning Back

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Published on Nov 2, 2012

In conjunction with the museum's spring 2007 exhibit "Robert Adams: Turning Back" we sent Daniel Houghton '06 to Oregon to interview photographer Robert Adams.

Adams took the Bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 2004 as an opportunity to revisit the Oregon landscape that the explorers had described as a vast forest of ancient evergreens. Sent by President Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Territory purchased from the French in 1803, Lewis and Clark mapped the land, assessing its natural resources and forming diplomatic connections with its indigenous peoples. On their journey westward they also discovered new species of trees and collected numerous specimens. But on their return east they experienced violent encounters with some of the native tribes and, in Adams's words, began to "foul up." It was then that they murdered some of the indigenous peoples; Lewis himself died on the return, an apparent suicide.

"We need to do better than they did on the return trip," says Adams, who started the project of Turning Back at the Pacific Coast and roughly retraced the explorers' journey eastward. In so doing Adams draws a compelling parallel between the explorers' adversity and what he views as our own current predicament. The photos in the suite serve as observances of what little remains of the majestic landscape Lewis and Clark first encountered.

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