Ruth Adams

FL 50 - Juror Pick from Elliot

unremarkable by Ruth Adams


I was immediately drawn to Ruth Adams' unremarkable for its understated size and long pages bearing nothing but clean, single rows of Polaroid self portraits. It's an emotional and personal experience to read this book and see the progress of the stark portraits day after day as Adams endures all of milestones of cancer treatment. With nothing but portraits on the page, Adams' pain, defeat, hope, tedium, joy, and sense of humor are inescapable. After seeing a photograph of an installation view of these photos hanging on a gallery wall, I was curious to hear more about the project of turning this into a photobook. Here is Ruth Adams talking a little bit about unremarkable.

 - Elliot McNally, Special Collections Librarian, ACA Library, SCAD Atlanta


Elliot: It was interesting to see the date range of this project. What brought you to turn this series into a book 10 years later in 2012?

In the life of a cancer survivor there are different milestones. For most types of cancer, 5-years out of treatment marks the point where the chance of recurrence goes way down. For me, 10 years out of treatment was one step further, it was the point where I got "divorced" from my oncologist, i.e. my chance of recurrence was so low that I no longer needed to be followed by a Lymphoma specialist. I was considered - Cured! 

That milestone coincided with a movie/photo exhibition that I helped to bring to the University of Kentucky Hospital, another cancer project 'Not as I Pictured' done by my good friend and photographer, John Kaplan. The confluence of all of that helped to convince the hospital to invest in making a small run of books that we could give out to cancer patients and caregivers at the exhibition.

Elliot: This project works so well in book format. It transforms it into such an intimate and captivating experience for the reader, and is so different from the installation view that seems so overwhelming to take in all at once. Intellectually I knew what the outcome would be at the end of the story, but I was so engrossed by the range of emotion and empowerment as the series progressed linearly. I was overcome with excitement and relief when your hair started growing back, and I don't think I would've had the same experience seeing it on the wall. Could you talk a little bit about how and why you chose this long format, size, paper, etc. for the book?

First, I would like to say thank you for expressing your experience of the book. It is so wonderful to hear how people respond to the unremarkable journey.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, as a visual person, I immediately looked for images that would show me the journey that I was going to go through. Unfortunately, most photo essays about cancer do not have a happy ending. So one of the driving forces behind unremarkable was to show the journey back to health, as I was planning on making it through. The goal for me in creating the book was to make it something that was easily digestible by someone waiting in a doctor's office, chemo suite or waiting room, so the size had to be small. I felt like the repetition of images was necessary to show the relationship between the days and the subtle changes that happen over time so I picked 7 per page, representing a week (although as there are days missing the weeks aren't "real").

Elliot: I think this is such a great example of a "democratic multiple." Do you feel like this project as a book has been able to reach a wider audience beyond the gallery installation? What has the reaction from the community been like? 

The reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly positive but the print run for this book was very small so distribution was not very wide. My goal for this book was, and still is, to get it into cancer centers all around the country. But I would like it to be for free, so I hope to someday be able to raise money for a larger print run and distribution, etc.

Elliot: Are you hooked on the book? Is book making a part of your larger art practice? 

I have produced several handmade artist books over my career and absolutely love the practice of bookmaking. I have more recently started creating more traditional photo monographs using online publishing software and love being able to have a finished piece to share once I feel a project has reached a conclusion. My own practice fluctuates from 19th century printing, like Platinum/Palladium to cell phone imagery, so different projects make sense as different types of books. But the short answer, yes, I believe I will always continue the practice of creating a linear journey through my images by using the book format.

Elliot: What are you currently working on?

After cancer, one tends to take a close look at one's life (and art practice) and I was no exception. Most of my artwork since unremarkable has been based around the overarching ideas of Awareness, Presence, and Meditation. The series 'Meditating: Eye's Wide' stems from my struggle to stay Present to my experiences while also attempting to make imagery. 'The Mythology of Mushrooms' is my homage to one of the most ephemeral and yet most powerful plants on earth, and my tactic for slowing myself down and Noticing while walking in the woods (or my backyard). And 'That's the Ohm' is my endeavor to stay connected to the Present by photographing the immeasurable beauty capturable through my car's moonroof.

To view more work by Ruth Adams please visit her website