PGI is pleased to present Boats, Books, Birds: Recorded in Wood by Robert Adams, photographs by Joshua Chuang.
Chuang, a photography curator, became the first photography curator at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2007, where he organized Robert Adams’ traveling retrospective, The Place We Live. Since then, he has deepened his relationship with Adams and has been involved in nearly 20 publications.
In addition to creating artwork, photographer Robert Adams has been making wood carvings of boats, books and birds. He and his wife had lived with them on the walls and shelves of their house for decades, occasionally moving them around. This exhibition will feature the photographic work of Chuang, who has photographed them since 2017 at Adams’ invitation.
It started in 2017 when Bob invited me to fly across the country to Astoria to document the wooden objects he’d made over the years. I’d seen them in and around the house during my many visits since getting to know him in 2006 and even included some examples in the retrospective I curated of his work several years later.
He wanted me to document them because he was in the midst of addressing his archive, and earmarked many of them to go to Yale. He didn’t want me just to document them, but also to photograph them in situ, since he and his wife had lived with them on the walls and shelves of their house for decades, occasionally moving them around.
I went twice, once in the summer and later in the fall. One thing I was struck by is that he was still making things in his workbench in the garage. I knew they were important to him as a a counterpart to his picture making, a way of engaging with the lovely things of the world that was not just documentary.
I tried to show this in my photographs, which are not professional by any means.
I majored in photography in college and even had a solo show at a cultural history museum in NYC. But by then I’d traded my ambitions of being an artist for the chance to channel my creative and intellectual energies to curating and collaborating with artists.
I never stopped taking pictures, but for the first time in years, was invited to take on a creative assignment. Neither Bob nor I were thinking of this a big production photo shoot with lots of lights on stands and reflectors taking up all the space of his modestly sized living quarters.
So I took the most unobtrusive equipment, a small digital camera, a tripod, and a handheld reflector.
We went to the local art supply shop, where his wife bought calligraphy supplies, to buy light grey sheets of paper to use as the background
It was very much an amateur production. No one would ever hire either one of us to photograph objects for a catalog―we were figuring out how to do things as we were doing them, improvising with whatever was around the house. There is a funny picture of Bob holding the tripod steady as the legs are propped up on stacks of photobooks.
But there is a plain spokenness about the results that spoke to both of us, and seemed to match the subject.
Born 1976 in New York City with degrees from Dartmouth College and Yale University. In 2007 Chuang was named the inaugural photography curator at the Yale University Art Gallery, for which he organized The Place We Live, a touring retrospective of Robert Adams’s work, and led the acquisition of Lee Friedlander’s archive. In 2014 he was appointed chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, and in 2016 he was hired to lead the art division of the New York Public Library, where he organized exhibitions on the work of Anna Atkins, Taryn Simon, and co-published a facsimile of the Kikuji Kawada’s maquette for Chizu (Mack, 2021). Since 2006, he has collaborated with Robert Adams on nearly twenty publications, including Boats, Books, Birds. This is his first exhibition of photographs since 2000.