by Gerald Boerner
“Back in the 70s it cost 15-20$ a shot for the film, the processing, and the contact sheet, now it’s twice that.”
— Stephen Shore
“The work that was shown was like a by-product, but never the purpose of my photography.”
— Stephen Shore
“I went on to flickr and it was just thousands of pieces of shit, and I just couldn’t believe it. And it’s just all conventional, it’s all clichés, it’s just one visual convention after another.”
— Stephen Shore
“His photographs of everyday American scenes unveiled the exceptional beauty to be found in banality, at the same time laying the groundwork for contemporary photographic genres such as the diaristic snapshot and the monumentalized landscape.”
— Stephen Shore
“Shore’s images present a world that is right around us, but unseen for its familarness. Shore isolates and deftly composes the natural world in such a way that the seemingly mundane becomes a tapestry of discovery.”
— Donald Giannatti
“What I found happen was, after years of doing it, it forced me into a kind of sense of certainty. I figured out what it is I want, and so there was no reason to take more than one. And now when I take pictures with any camera, I still shoot the same way.”
— Stephen Shore
“To see something spectacular and recognise it as a photographic possibility is not making a very big leap. But to see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognize it as a photographic possibility – that is what I am interested in.”
— Stephen Shore
“A quote that I like very much… comes close to explaining my attitude about taking photographs…. ‘Chinese poetry rarely trespasses beyond the bounds of actuality… the great Chinese poets accept the world exactly as they find it in all its terms and with profound simplicity… they seldom talk about one thing in terms of another; but are able enough and sure enough as artists to make the ultimately exact terms become the beautiful terms.’ ”
— Stephen Shore
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Stephen Shore (Born: 1947)
Stephen Shore was interested in photography from an early age. Self-taught, he received a photographic darkroom kit at age six from a forward-thinking uncle. He began to use a 35mm camera three years later and made his first color photographs. At ten he received a copy of Walker Evans’s book, American Photographs, which influenced him greatly. His career began at the early age of fourteen, when he made the precocious move of presenting his photographs to Edward Steichen, then curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Recognizing Shore’s talent, Steichen bought three of his works. At age seventeen, Shore met Andy Warhol and began to frequent Warhol’s studio, the Factory, photographing Warhol and the creative people that surrounded him. In 1971, at the age of 24, Shore became the second living photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Shore then embarked on a series of cross-country trips, making "on the road" photographs of American and Canadian landscapes. In 1972, he made the journey from Manhattan to Amarillo, Texas, that provoked his interest in color photography. Viewing the streets and towns he passed through, he conceived the idea to photograph them in color, first using 35mm and then an 4×5" view camera before finally settling on the 8×10 format. In 1974 an NEA endowment funded further work, followed in 1975 by a Guggenheim grant and in 1976 a color show at MoMA, NY. His 1982 book, Uncommon Places was a bible for the new color photographers because, alongside William Eggleston, his work proved that a color photograph, like a painting or even a black and white photograph, could be considered a work of art. Many artists, including Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, Martin Parr, Joel Sternfeld , and Thomas Struth, have acknowledged his influence on their work.
Heinz Liesbrock, in Stephen Shore: Photographs, 1973-1993, noted the following characteristics of Shore’s photography:
"…Shore’s ability to react to fluid situations and translate the spontaneity unique to them into an image, using the heavy, difficult-to-set-up plate camera is seen in another photograph, one that has an apparently more confused structure. In El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975, he again selects a viewpoint facing a clear vertical, the back of a man waiting on the curb, thus initially giving the observer’s gaze a fixed direction. On the sunlit island of sidewalk jutting into the foreground of the picture from two directions, there is a network of objects and their shadows from which individual aspects nevertheless seem to radiate, apparently autonomously: the tree that seems to have been placed on top of the concrete, and, to the right of it, an assembly of street signs (with the helmeted head at the center), which takes on its own values in terms of direction, surface, and color – values that may seem detached from the real spatial context of the picture. In general, in fact, the advertising and traffic signs in this picture are potentially released from their normal indicative character as graphics. They give the picture an ordered structure and a dynamic quality to the same degree that they momentarily step out of their context.
"Since he started taking color shots, Shore has exclusively produced contact prints of the negatives, which since 1974 have measured 8 x 10 inches (ca. 20 x 25 cm). No enlargement is involved, therefore, and the greatest possible directness is achieved in the relation between the negative and the print. Precisely against the background of the large-sized reproductions that have become common in international photography in recent years, it is well worth emphasizing the advantages of the contact print, as Shore uses it. Its relatively small format gives it the appearance of being a concise visual impression, in which a wealth of detail can nevertheless be perceived, and which invites the observer to read the image, to engage in a progressive process of understanding the individual elements it contains and the connections between them. The contact print gives the picture an extraordinary formal differentiation and a special succinctness in its use of color… The contact print, as Shore sees it, undoubtedly gives the photographic image a quality of aura that no enlargement can achieve. His pictures therefore have a special presence, in which the sensual conciseness is equally charged with an intellectual and spiritual force.
"Shore’s understanding of color is an unmistakable part of the peculiar, special quality that his pictures have. He shares a preference for the obvious – taking color and as it were saturating it with reality – with other artists belonging to the "second generation of color photographers," which emerged at the beginning of the 1970s. Color no longer has a decorative status, but is conceived instead as a natural quality of everyday experience. Shore, however, manages above and beyond this to shape color into an entirely personal form of expression. Natural light stimulates the whole of the space in his pictures, and does not appear to be a special phenomenon in itself that is being used in an attempt to dramatize the formal structure. Shadow formations, when they appear, have a quite incidental quality, and in no way seek to emancipate themselves and become independent constructions. Shore usually registers sunlight entering from the side, and this also explains the specially saturated quality that the light has in his work. Color is really a quality of the light for him. This subdues any potential tendency for the color to become harsh; and equally, the light itself in this way acquires a special delicacy. The light is absorbed into the colored materiality of objects, and charges them with a restrained glow. The impression arises that color has been spiritualized; it constantly appears to be felt, at every point. And this explains the sudden change often observed when the pictures are studied for a longer period, when the color becomes an independent construct, although without disturbing the unity of the image. Above all, however, the image’s saturation with reality in Shore’s work arises from the color; it is the color that provides the vital connection with the world…"
ARTINFO’s Philip Gefter notes that Stephen Shore as well as William Eggleston borrowed from photorealist painters, such as Robert Cottingham, Richard Estes and Ralph Goings. Gefter notes, “[Shore and Eggleston’s] interpretation of the American vernacular — gas stations, diners, parking lots—is foretold in photorealist paintings that preceded their pictures.”
Shore has achieved recognition as a key figure in new color photography, a loosely defined movement whose practitioners have brought serious aesthetic considerations to color photography as an art form. Shore’s body of work includes banal images of everyday subject matter – the back wall of a parking lot, yellow traffic stripes, a tabletop place setting in a restaurant – in sparsely populated areas that convey his formalistic vision of balance and serenity.
[Stephen Shore and William Eggleston] are inseparable from the recognition of color photography as a legitimate medium of artistic expression. Long into the 1970s, the view of Walker Evans, the American photographer of the 1920s and 1930s, that "color photography is vulgar," was still considered axiomatic. Serious photography was only executed in black and white: color photography, expensive to use and with prints that were unstable when exposed to light, was left to the applied, commercial side of photography, to advertising and journalism. We now know that Evans, who propounded this doctrine, had worked intensively in color himself long before, but had not been satisfied with the results except in a very few cases.
As is well known, viewing a color photograph is different from looking at a black-and-white one. Film theorist Stanley Cavell has noted that both in photographs and in movies, black-and-white pictures are psychologically perceived as documents of completed action. The motifs in color photographs, however, appear to be from the present, or even in a certain sense from the future. They are less burdened with the labor of memory, and are therefore easier to approach. As source material for scholarship, they are more exact, because the colors of the period concerned are reproduced. Since color photographs are one stage less abstract than black-and-white ones, they seem to us to be more concrete and to have a more direct connection with the world.
Text from Stephen Shore, The Nature of Photographs:
The next transformative element is the frame. A photograph has edges; the world does not. The edges separate what is in the picture from what is not. Robert Adams aimed his camera down a little bit and to the right, included a railroad track in [his] photograph of a partially clear-cut Western landscape, and sent a chilling reverberation through the image’s content and meaning. The frame corrals the content of the photograph all at once. The objects, people, events, or forms that are in the forefront of a photographer’s attention when making the fine framing decisions are the recipients of the frame’s emphasis. The frame resonates off them and, in turn, draws the viewer’s attention to them.
Just as monocular vision creates juxtapositions of lines and shapes within the image, edges create relationships between these lines and shapes and the frame. The relationships that the edges create are both visual and "contentual."
The men in the foreground of this photograph by Helen Levitt bear a visual relationship not only to each other, but also to the lines of the frame. The frame energizes the space around the figures. These formal qualities unite the disparate action of this picture – the seated man with his stolid stare, the languid dialogue of the two men on the left, and the street-wise angularity of the central figure – into the jazzy cohesion of 1940s New York City street life.
For some pictures the frame acts passively. It is where the picture ends. The structure of the picture begins within the image and works its way out to the frame.
Books of his photographs include Uncommon Places: 50 Unpublished Photographs; Essex County; The Gardens at Giverny; Stephen Shore: Photographs 1973 – 1993; and The Velvet Years, Andy Warhol’s Factory, 1965 – 1967. In 1998, Johns Hopkins University Press published The Nature of Photographs, a book Shore wrote about how photographs function (reprinted in an expanded edition by Phaidon Press). Most recently, Aperture has published Uncommon Places: The Complete Work, and Phaidon has published American Surfaces.
Currently Shore is the director of the photography department at Bard College, a position he has held since 1982.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Stephen Shore that can be found at…
Masters of Photography: Stephen Shore…