I first met David Emitt Adams at a portfolio review in San Diego. Portfolio reviews are a bit like speed dating for the photography world. Photographers sign up for 20-minute “dates” with curators, editors, and dealers. They talk a bit about their work and themselves, and when the bell rings at the end of their time, they move on to the next meeting.
When Adams sat down at my table, he did not have the sleek black portfolio that photographers usually carry. Instead, he was toting a large black case. It had an old-school style―something that looked better suited to holding a large projector than photographs. The first objects to emerge from the case were small tintypes, created on the back of flattened film containers. I was already intrigued. Tintypes were first created in 1853 (patented in 1856) and reached the height of their popularity in the Civil War. They are created when a liquid emulsion is exposed directly on a blackened metal support. The result is that the negative made on the emulsion, appears as a positive due to its dark support. Adams’s tintypes were of his students from an “Introduction to Photography” course. He produced 36 of them (photography geeks will get the significance of the number) and housed them in a beautiful mahogany display case. The completed project is visible on his website http://www.davidemittadams.com/portfolio/36-exposures/.
Next, Adams pulled several bubble-wrapped packages from his black case. Each package revealed rusty cans merged with beautiful images that make up his “Conversations with History” series. Roaming through the Arizona landscape for the past years, Adams paid particular attention to the detritus and traces left by humans. Carefully collecting rusty tin cans, some older than himself, the photographer was inspired by the visual evidence of light and time that results in the rich, rust-colored patina. Using these objects as his photographic base, Adams employed the same labor-intensive 19th-century process―wet-plate collodion―as the early survey photographers, such as Timothy O’Sullivan. Carefully pairing images with the corresponding cans, Adams’s resulting objects are artifact and photograph, with images reflecting the landscape in which the cans were found.
After discussing his work, his process, and his art, Adams said to me, “I just want to bring the objectness back to photography.” It’s a sentiment that many share. Since our meeting, almost one year ago, Adams’s work has been featured in several photography blogs such as PetaPixel and Le Journal de la Photographie. His reputation is growing and he is lauded by the photography community.
I’m pleased to say that the Santa Barbara Museum of Art has more to offer visitors than just blogs, webpages, and social media sites ―we have his “Conversations with History” work on view in Colefax gallery through September 28. Come see for yourself.