Photographic Mastery: Stephen Shore

Photographic Mastery: Stephen Shore

Taking a step back into the orange hues often associated with the 1970s, Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, showcases a point of transformation, both within American colour photography and for one of the genre’s pioneers. Stephen Shore’s (b. 1947) Uncommon Places Vintage Prints documents a refreshed look at public and private spaces and their decorative details. The collection offers a chance to leave behind today’s digital complexities, delving into the importance of memory and the analog medium.

The exhibition presents many original monographic prints, first shown by MoMA, New York, in 1976, harking back to an innovative moment within Shore’s practise and the increasing acceptance of photography as an art form by wider institutions. Demonstrating creative ambition throughout his childhood, the artist was first noticed by the gallery’s Director Edward Steichen at the age of 14, foreshadowing his monumental impact on the genre. Whilst images from Uncommon Places can often be seen as a reflection of memory and iconography, the compositions also provide a view into the innovation of Shore’s developing vision.

As Quentin Bajac, one of MoMA’s current photography curators, states: “He never tries to stick to one style … Shore is not all nostalgic.” (Aesthetica Issue 80). Moving away from the celebrity awe of Andy Warhol, often associated with artist’s professional progression, the exhibition notes a shift in focus for Shore. By embarking on a road trip, and perhaps fulfilling some essence of the American dream whilst doing so, Shore went about shooting a complexity of scenes: the naturalistic beauty of the National Park, the buzz of the artsy inner city New York, and the solitude of a rented motel room at the edge of Idaho.

The mundane title of Room 125, West Bank Motel, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1973) reveals a fascinating juxtaposition exposed by the series. In a boxy corner of a typical motel room sits a pine-coloured desk and chair, emphasising the unremarkable nature of recognisable objects. Lying on top of the table sits an unopened suitcase, and an intruding pair of crossed legs stretches across a patterned, cropped bed, stressing the notion of the unseen, alive within all photography. This composition hints at the underlying mystery of the activities of individuals, enhancing the importance of the everyday. Playing on the renovation of the medium, this piece, amongst others within the series, not only works as a surveillance of the varying landscapes, but requests an awareness of the image as an object with its own history.

At Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, until 1 March. Find out more here.

1. Stephen Shore, Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974.