TURNING BACK BY ROBERT ADAMS AND IS THIS PLACE GREAT OR WHAT BY BRIAN ULRICH
“Nearly every view that the average visitor encounters in Oregon and Washington, even if the view is green, has been cut at least once,” writes Robert Adams in Turning Back. In his book Adams “looks again at the region’s trees, discovering evidence both of America’s failure and of a continuing promise.” Adams explores much of the same Northwest routes Lewis and Clark explored two-hundred years ago as they headed west. As Adams explores in the opposite direction, heading east, he encounters “the results of greed so unrestrained that they are indistinguishable from those of nihilism” but also “what was lost, what is retained, and what we value as a people with a common history.”
Much of what we have retained has become commodity. Retail stores like to make their mark as being integral to the success of our economy. And in many terms, this is unfortunately true. But they as well, promote themselves as integral to our lives, to that common history that Adams photographed in Turning Back. Most advertisements associate these stores with community, recreation, fun, and necessary to meet our everyday familial and societal needs. Consumerism becomes a natural order. But in the essay Shopapalooza: The Boom and Bust of the Retail Economy, Juliet B Schor which is included in Brian Ulrich’s Is This Place Great or What? Schor writes that “American consumer culture, long thought to be as immutable a force of nature as exists, is suddenly unmoored.” American consumerism destroys what is immutable and then we the consumer ascribe to it, that same quality of importance Adams affords us a glimpse in the Northwest forests. In contrast, Ulrich “photographs the architectural legacies of a retail-driven economy in the midst of collapse—shopping malls on the brink of demolition, empty big box stores, the fraying surfaces of a shopping-obsessed culture.”
Both Turning Back and Is This Place Great or What? document collapse. As Ulrich studies the collapse of a current consumer economy, Adams studies the demise of the land upon which it was built. Both ask the question, what will remain?