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Crimes Of Perception

It could be a well-placed bottle, a notable tattoo, or a shadow that raises the hair on the back of your neck. The small details in Mac Adams’ photographs allow his images to set the stage for a larger, and, many times, much more sadistic, scene. The SUNY Old Westbury professor’s photographic narratives are currently on display at an exhibit at the Elizabeth Dee gallery in Manhattan. 


Adams’ pictures reflect suspended moments — a shadow lurking, a man whispering into a woman’s ear, a hand dropping something into a wine glass. It’s not the whole story. Rather, his pictures allow viewers to let their imaginations run wild as they speculate to what might happen next. 


“What interests me with photography is not what is shown, but what isn’t shown,” he says. “The photograph is the vehicle to explain what’s surrounding it.” 

Adams say he gets the inspiration for suspended scenes from film, where the space between movie frames is void.


“Where you understand what’s going on in the movie is the space between the frames. That area really interests me, how the viewer participates in making those connections,” Adams said. “It’s a very abstract process that looks literal, but is and isn’t.” 


Adams grew up in Wales and was a painter in art school before coming to Rutgers University to study sculpture. He says he wanted to be a writer, but fell into photography because illustrating his thoughts came with ease. When he got started in the early 70s much of his early interest came from semiotic and deconstructionist theories. 


Themes of mystery and suspense are recurring throughout Adams’ photographs, and Alfred Hitchcock’s influence on his work is unsurprising. Adams says that the ideas for his photographs come from normal situations. 


“What appears normal is almost usually never normal. There’s almost something always beyond that,” he said. “What you see is what you’re not getting.” 


One such example is Across the Park, which features two pictures —one of a woman crossing the street, and the other of the same woman sitting on a brick wall in a park. When viewers look closely, they realize there’s a shadow of a mysterious figure getting closer and closer to the woman in both pictures.


“They say that if Alfred Hitchcock was on an island with no trees, he would worry about that single cloud in the sky. I’m a little like that,” Adams says with a laugh. 


“It’s a fearful perception of the world,” he admits. “It’s a little dark vision, but we’re living in dark times.” 

Adams is a distinguished professor at SUNY Old Westbury, where he has taught for over 20 years. He teaches students to deconstruct media and understand how it works and how to not take it so literally. Dozens of institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, have collected his work and he also designed the Korean War Memorial in Battery Park in 1991. 


His exhibit, Crimes of Perception, will be at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery at 545 West 20th Street in Manhattan until August 9. Find out more at or call (212) 924-7545.