Early images of the American West have long been associated with images of desert. Black and white depictions of towering bluffs, large stretches of land dotted with cactus, and rocky outcroppings all speak to the rugged landscape of untamed nature. As humans passed through these harsh landscapes, they attempted to capture and somehow tame the wilderness with photography. Arizona-born artist David Emitt Adams uses a 19th century process called "wet-plate collodion" to create tintype images on old, discarded cans collected from the desert floor.
Born in Yuma, Arizona in 1980, Adams had never fully experienced the iconic West as it was before roads and urban sprawl.
“This notion of land untouched by the hand of man is so foreign it might as well be make-believe. As long as people have been in the American West, we have found its barren desert landscapes to be an environment perfect for dumping and forgetting,” he says.
Each rusty can sports a rich patina that serves as a backdrop for Adams’ compositions. Both natural and man-made objects appear on the corroded surfaces, blending the organic and manufactured forms. Using a technology hundreds of years old to reproduce pictures of the desert onto the metal, the artist explores the use of light and time.
The rusty cans have already been manipulated by the air and sun to turn from shining cylinders to warped, brown husks. Both nature and photographic technique add historical character to the cans and ties them to their location. They are relics of culture left behind on the march towards modernity, discarded and disregarded almost as much as the roots tying society back to nature. Adams’ work can be seen as a tribute to the lost spirit of the West and a harkening back to the moments in history lost to memory.