PDN Photo of the Day

Robert Adams’s Lifelong Engagement with the Cottonwood Tree

Robert Adams has been photographing the shifting landscape of the American West for more than 50 years. The impact of human development on land has been his principal focus, as well as nature’s beauty – most notably the imperial qualities of trees.

Trees have been a subject of lifelong engagement for Adams and no species has garnered more attention from the artist than the cottonwood. A new and larger edition of Cottonwood, originally published by Smithsonian in 1994 as part of the series “Photographers at Work,” has been released by Steidl. It includes some of the earliest pictures Adams made, which were of cottonwoods, and images he made of the tree while living in Colorado for 35 years.

Exalted by the Plains Indians, native cottonwoods “animate the landscape unforgettably,” states the press release for the book, “but their thirst for water and lack of commercial value has made them common targets for removal by agribusiness and housing developers.” It is said that for Adams, “Trees combine the noble stillness of the landscape with an almost human vitality.”

“The example of trees,” he says, “does suggest a harmony for which it seems right to dream.”

Robert Adams (b. 1937) has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as numerous awards, including the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and the Hasselblad Award. His 2010–14 retrospective The Place We Live, organized by the Yale University Art Gallery, traveled to eight museums around the world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, and the Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Related Articles
A Photographic Study of Mississippi’s Longleaf Pines
Photographing Wise Trees Around the World
Lucas Foglia’s “Human Nature” Finds New Ways To Understand Our Impact on the Environment (for PDN subscribers; login required)

Posted in:



, , , , , ,





  1. Tree photographs are a favorite of mine and these are some of the best.
    Esp. love the second to last shot in your gallery with the man sitting under the tree.

Top of Page