At first glance, it's hard to tell what you're seeing in Adrienne Adam's images. Is it an aerial view of mountain lakes in a green field, or is it merely a leaf with holes in it? Is it a group of eroded sandstone boulders, or the leaves of a desert succulent plant?
Through Adam's experienced eye, the same recurring themes of the natural world seem to crop up in all subjects — be they mountain ranges or flower petals. "Today, I find that what really makes my heart sing is to pay attention to the details of nature," she says. "I call these details ‘natural graphics' because they are images that emphasize the subtle patterns, textures and motion in nature."
Using nothing more than sunlight and a medium-format 500CM Hasselblad camera, Adam has been making her striking natural graphics for more than a decade. Eschewing darkroom gimmicks and studio tricks, she says that the only enhancement her images receive is the heightened color saturation inherent in the Fuji Velvia film she prefers.
"I don't really know how to use a flash," she admits. "I just like to use the available light and look for something that catches my eye."
For Adam, the final image is often beside the point. "It is the process of taking a photograph that enhances my emotional and sensory experience of the environment to the extent that it becomes a part of who I am and, hopefully, of the image itself."
Her first steps into the world of photography could not have come from a more unlikely source — the U.S. military. Originally from Lompoc, Calif., Adam was trained as a photo technician in the Air Force in the early 1970s, taking pictures of "broken plane parts and handshakes." She later worked as an editorial photographer for daily and weekly newspapers in California and Colorado until 1987. After that, she became a publisher of a small weekly newspaper in the town of Leavenworth, Wash.
Inspired by the natural beauty of the surrounding Cascade Range, she retired from the publishing business in 1992 to concentrate full time on nature photography. Two years ago, Adam, 54, moved to Eugene, Ore., where she now works out of her home.
In recent years, Adam says, her focus on nature "has expanded to include human nature," which involved several visits to southern China and Tibet. "There is a spirit and grace about the farmers, fishermen and mountain peoples that has drawn me to them," she says. For future projects in the same vein, Adam is considering photographic and spiritual trips to Japan and to the native lands of the American Southwest.
"I'd like to draw people's attention to these natural places because they may someday become obsolete," she says. "If they find beauty in my work, perhaps they will be motivated to see it for themselves and to help protect it."