Cleveland photographer, painter and mixed media artist Elizabeth Adams’ latest series, “Pandemic 2020,” is a “visual journal.” She captures, through the camera’s lens, her long-time neighborhood of Tremont, the blossoming Cleveland spring and reverent moments with friends before revving up a rental car this past Thursday in order to break out West on a cross-country ramble.
Adams was originally a photography major at Cleveland State University before transferring to Kent State in order to obtain her BFA in painting and is inspired by the likes of Diane Arbus, whose candid portraiture included strippers, carnival performers, nudists, and dwarves; Robert Rauschenberg, with his mixed media approach; and Gerhard Richter, a painter and graphic artist who famously said, “My concern is never art, but always what art can be used for." In this light one might ask, how is Adams’ latest series useful to us?
“I’m kind of a spastic photographer, it’s a compulsion and it’s what I do. I feel like I’m collecting," she says. "I want to remember everything, I want to capture everything, because I love being able to look back on things. It’s kind of like a visual journal because I’m not much of a writer.”
The series reflects an inner-dialog between Adams and her surroundings, depicting budding spring flora, caution-taped playgrounds and daunted Clevelanders amid vacant cityscapes. She transforms moments into treasures with her patient observation of a city at unease.
Adams suffers from an anxiety disorder and her camera gives her a vehicle for to navigate through her emotions. She faces her disquiet intrepidly, choosing adventure over stagnancy, community over solipsism and intrigue over indifference. Her courage should act as a beacon for the rest of us who are at odds with global pestilence, in a state of civil unrest and fraught with indecision, worry and paranoia.
“I think there’s a collective anxiety to stay in place. I didn’t drive further than maybe dropping groceries off at to my parents’ out in West Lake a couple of times in three months. I think that’s what led to a hectic anxiety…I’ve lived in Tremont for 13 years, I’ve watched the neighborhood change a lot. It was nice to get back to basics…really slowing down and forming closer relationships with people that I know. And we’ve really bonded through this whole experience. It’s been really scary and we’ve been able to be there for each other….I think every photographer during this time should be documenting what’s going on where they live…every person’s experience is different, everybody’s dealing with this differently.”
Although Adams has focused recently on photography, she also blends together different mediums such as painting and collage while sometimes running an image through audio editing or text editing software creating a glitch in the data, “I like to paint from that. I also like to collage things together, but I really enjoy the glitch aspect where your TV scrambles…I really enjoy the disorientation of trying to figure out what the imagery is.”
Adams spoke to me from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, the first stop on one of many cross country pilgrimages she has made, her last being in October. She speaks in a heightened state of both excitement and fretfulness as she’s only had a couple of weeks to plan her nearly month-long journey.
“This all started when I won a permit through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to go see “The Wave” in Arizona which is a spectacular, beautiful place. I won it in this lottery which they only pick 10 people a day. I ended up winning over hundreds of people and I won it on my birthday which seemed sort of serendipitous.”
The opportunity to observe this undulating landscape is highly sought-after by travelers, artists and thrill seekers alike. Literally hundreds of thousands seek to explore this natural wonder every year with its different shades of swirling sandstone inside the Coyote Buttes Northern region bordering Utah between Kanab and Page.
Wanderlust is par for Adams’ course when viewing her website which features her extensive expeditions capturing everything from abandon barns on rolling farmland to industrial infrastructure, to arid mountain ranges. She is a traveler and a collector of moments.
“I feel like every time I take a photograph, that’s a part of my collection. I get to keep that moment, I get to keep that place for myself and I can look back on it and I can remember exactly how I felt and exactly where I was and sometimes the music I was listening to.”
Adams, who claims she is usually a compulsive scheduler, seems to be a bit more nervous about this trip than some of her others. Without a strict itinerary she is left to “fly by the seat of her pants.” I asked her what she expects to bring back with her from this inadvertent survey.
“I hope to bring back maybe some more understanding. I’m not good with uncertainty. I think that comes with having an anxiety disorder. So this massive amount of uncertainty along with George Floyd and with the Black Lives Matter movement and with the rioting that’s been happening but also the really positive things that have been coming out of it like with the public protest. I hope there is a lot of change that comes from it. It’s all really anxiety-inducing…I really want this project to be something that is going to help me grow personally and also can be something that other people can look at and take something important away from it, whatever that may be.”
View “Pandemic 2020” and Adams’ other work on her website