June 21st, 2013  |  Published in June 2013


a book review by Louis Zoellar Bickett

NYC based photographer Raymond Adams’ new (and first book) AMERICA: WITNESSED is a bibliophiles’ dream—a perfectly designed book. Adams’ photographs are lyrical and narrative in nature, all shot in his home base of NYC and vicinity and on a U.S.A. cross-country trip in his Odyssean quest for home and, explanation of “what America means?”
What his journey gave the world is a unique and graphic vision. His approach is nonjudgmental, direct, dedicated and inquisitive. Adams’ talent is splendid—his technique masterful—his knowledge of light and how important it is to photography unparalleled. Though AMERICA: WITNESSED is a clever and compelling unfolding of one man’s vision, Adams is not dogmatic. He is not preaching a sermon—and I would bet the family farm that if Adams was asked the question WHAT DOES AMERICA MEAN? He might just say, MAN, I’M JUST THE WITNESS. Or, as Louis Armstrong said when asked what does jazz mean “man you either get it or you don’t”. I got the impression after viewing the 48 images in the book (six black & white and forty-two color works) that Raymond Adams does not have so much as ‘a dog in the fight’ of what America is, but rather, he has a yearning desire to understand, and perhaps record the complexity of what America is. Regardless of what Adams is doing, or has done with these images—images of great variety and life—if his book was a meal, you would not want it to end, but when it did, you would want to lick the plate clean. Starting with the cover—it is a slick, modern printed to the edge affair. And pictured, a blur at sunrise, a rural scene anywhere in America. Two cars and a tractor dot the scene. The center tree shimmers. The muted, autumnal colors refer to good cinema. Who is home? Who will answer this door? Will they smile and greet me ‘Leave It To Beaver-style’ or will they blow my head off with a 38?

Duane Michals’ introduction is as clever, original, interesting and ubër smart as he is.  Michals’ reputation for humor is well-known and he gets a few ‘good ones’ in with his introduction to Adams’ work. This most engaging intro/essay describes the work with one-liner jabs. Michals’ reference to Adams as The Kentucky Kid refers to Michals’ much venerated series of double-exposure photographs of a young man boxing himself or his doppelgänger while nude. The model was Adams. Michals essay is both funny, poignant and erudite. Duane Michals, a photographer in the top Pantheon of contemporary photographers, is also a gifted writer.

The design of the book is my idea of the perfect layout for photography:
A single image to a page. The facing page (to the left of the image) is left blank. No page numbers. No titles. No technical information (thumbnails and information are at the pack of the book). Just photography at its most technical, classic and historic best.

Adams is the consummate sociological voyeur—he has a roving eye that is deliciously varied. His America digs coal, waits in airports, rides in trains and watches the sun come up in Brooklyn. His America camped out in Zuccotti Park and watched the Twin Towers go up in smoke. His America is staffed by waiters, plays ball on the campus grounds, gathers on Wall Street, works in factories, makes deals on cell phones, makes speeches from the senate floor, goes to museums and the shooting range, fights in two wars, waves the flag, eats alone in diners, lives in trailer parks, travels endless roads and chats with their wife on FaceTime while on cross-country photo-shoots. Raymond Adams’ America gets speeding tickets from polite cops and watches the sun set from oil and gas fields. In this America as digitally captured by Adams cars catch fire on the Interstate and the mist ascending from the American side of Niagara is always there. Oil rigs in Texas waters look like props from Star Wars while the cumulus clouds panoramically glide away. Will bathers ever cease to over-populate Coney Island? In Adams’ America Sandy was not successful. Housing developments in Hummelstown, PA—46 miles from Gettysburg kind of look majestic. America plays cornhole in St. Paul and goes to Mass. New Orleans over-decorates for Easter and the dead are still buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. ‘HELL’, written on a fence, will keep me out of that yard. America watches for UFOs in Colorado, preaches ‘Fire and Brimstone’ in the 9th Ward, stares at a camera at Coney Island as their American flag dew rags sop up their sweat. Johnny Reb flags still fly in Mississippi (Adams proves it). America sits on porches and park benches while the young still fall in love.

Maybe Adams is telling us that America is about everything and everyone. The final eight images in Adams’ AMERICA: WITNESSED speak of a virtuoso that sings off the pages—placement, content, design is everything: Adams reflected in the mirror as lethal punches are delivered at Gleason’s Boxing Gym; Shea’s Theater is being prepared for performance; flat track racing at Indiana State Fair; a surfer, tiny in the distance walks across the sand in Miami; a restored, shiny Chevy is a man’s ‘Pride and Joy’; the housing market took its tow in Georgia; Adams’ Uncle Ron is laid to rest in Kentucky and the most beautiful Big Sur amber sunset will make you believe that AMERICA: WITNESSED is just about RIGHT, just about PERFECT.


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