Stephen Shore

American Photographer

Born: October 8, 1947
New York City
I'd thought about this in a certain way before - about this idea of how to make a picture look natural. In a way I deconstructed all of that over a period of years and made pictures that were almost the opposite, very intensely structured.

Summary of Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore has achieved widespread recognition for the way in which his work has moved documentary and landscape photography beyond the monumental and newsworthy and toward explorations of everyday life and the emotions with which people see. Shore was heavily influenced by his time spent at Andy Warhol's Factory as a teenager, developing into a photographer with a persistent interest in serialization and the quotidian across a practice embracing experimentation and new technologies. Shore's best-known work, taken over the course of long drives across the United States and Canada, reconsiders the North American interior, showing these countries through overlooked details rather than romantic formulas and challenging the photographic establishment's dismissal of color through unapologetic use of bright shades and unusual tonal contrasts. In recent years, Shore has continued to innovate, exploring new forms of street photography, portraiture and the possibilities of digital cameras.


Progression of Art


Rene Ricard, Susan Bottomly, Eric Emerson, Mary Woronov, Andy Warhol, Ronnie Cutrone, Paul Morrissey, Pepper Davis

This black and white photograph is one of the many that Shore took at Andy Warhol's studio, the Factory, and shows a group of people gathered in various states of repose on the space's risers while clothing hangs above them; on the left side of the image, Rene Ricard and Susan Bottomly, standing, pose for Shore's camera while the others look away. At the back of the space, two figures face away from the camera, apparently engaged in their work or conversation. The majority of those shown in the image were regulars at the Factory and involved in creative work; Ricard was a poet, actor and art critic, Bottomly was a model and actress, and those seated include Mary Woronov, an actress, writer and painter, Warhol himself, the artist Ronnie Cutrone, the film director Paul Morrissey and actress Pepper Davis.

This photograph is striking for its intimacy; the subjects appear aware of Shore's camera, but unperturbed by it. The famous figures in the images are captured in an unguarded, human and apparently ordinary moment. Shore's talent for recognizing the value of the everyday and capturing it is clear in this image, which would later serve as a document of an important cultural moment. The lighting, soft yet bright, creates a sense of ethereality, as does the grain of the image, which is particularly apparent in the textured hair and clothes of the figures at the foreground, at once heightening their inaccessibility and their apparent reality in a manner that accords with the mythical status Warhol's Factory and its denizens would attain.

Gelatin silver print - Private Collection


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, July 1972

This photograph of an intersection in Oklahoma is among the image sequence known as American Surfaces, taken on Shore's first drive across the United States. At the centre of the image is the point where two roads intersect, marked by a set of traffic lights and a vertical sign marking the Texaco station visible behind two cars on the right side of the image. The image has been taken late in the day and the lights are bright against the faded blue and orange sky, the dark green of the nature strips and the grey of the road and the foreground parking lot in which crumpled newspapers lie discarded. American Surfaces is intended to be seen as a sequence, in which the minor details of life on the road, including food on tables, beds and televisions in motels and gas stations such as this, build to communicate a sense of the North American interior as an anonymous monotony.

This image, and the series of which it is a part, can be seen as a rejection of Henri Cartier-Bresson's idea of the decisive moment as a central tenet of photography; instead of capturing a single, significant moment of change or motion, Shore's camera captures a way of seeing the everyday. American Surfaces captures the textures of post-war life in the United States, focusing not on newsworthy moments, but on specifics which shape the experiences of those living and moving through the country. In these images, Shore argues for a style of photography that is less monumental than irreverent and deadpan; when displayed at Light Gallery in 1972, Shore presented the images, printed not by the photographer but by Kodak, unframed and taped to the wall, leading many to see them as an affront to craftsmanship. This image rejects many compositional rules; it has multiple points of focus and is framed such that the Texaco sign is cropped by the top of the photograph. It is, however, in dialogue with existing photographic traditions, both through rejecting existing rules for documentary photography and in its visual nod to Ed Ruscha, whose 1963 book Twentysix Gasoline Stations had changed the meaning of the petrol station in post-war visual culture. Shore saw Ruscha's work as opening up the possibility of photography as a record, rather than as an elevation of the beautiful, and this image's rejection of romantic rules suggests an active endeavor to draw upon and extend this lineage.

Chromogenic color print - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom


Breakfast, Trail's End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973

This image, from Shore's best-known series, Uncommon Places, shows a table set for breakfast at what appears to be a diner. The breakfast setting, on a table lined with a lamination imitating wood, is positioned on a diagonal from the camera. It consists of a plate of pancakes, encircled by Hopi petroglyphs, positioned between cutlery atop a placemat showing scenes of Native Americans and white colonizers. Further from the camera, occupying a central position at the top of the frame, is a smaller plate upon which sits a bowl holding half a cantaloupe. To the right are a salt shaker and a pepper shaker, a glass of water with ice and a glass of milk. In the lower left corner, the tan acrylic of the seat below is visible.

Shore took this photograph, along with others during his first year working on Uncommon Places, with a 4 x 5 Crown Graphic camera, wishing for greater accuracy with framing and a higher quality image than had been possible with his Rollei, despite the challenges this posed in taking the photographs he desired. This image required Shore to stand on a chair and raise the camera, attached to a tripod, above him on an angle. The apparent simplicity of the image, which erases Shore's authorial presence and the difficulty with which the camera was balanced, is belied by the shapes, lines and framing, all of which reveal the photograph as deeply considered. The diagonal lines of the placemats at the top and right hand side direct the audience's eye into the image, the framing of the pancakes by the plate and placemat marks this area of the image as particularly significant and the interplay of small and large circular items serves to hold the audience's attention and stimulate sustained consideration.

Shore was taking photographs for Uncommon Places at the same time at which painters were exploring Photorealism, with artists such as John Baeder and Ralph Goings similarly depicting the diner as a significant site for North American life. Shore's careful compositions, which heighten the viewer's sense of distance from the everyday, can be seen in opposition to Photorealist works, which render larger spaces in such exacting detail as to suspend the viewer's critical faculties.

Shore has spoken of his interest, across Uncommon Places, in prompting a deeper consideration of the quotidian through joining form with content so as to lose neither the image nor the complexities of North American life. Shore's subject is, as a diner breakfast, found across the United States whilst also, through the detailing of the plate and placemat, being specific to the place in which this example has been found. The references to Native American culture introduce an element of ambivalence to the photograph; they speak not only of the comforts of everyday life, but also of the myths upon which the United States has been built and the ways in which quotidian imagery serves to perpetuate these myths.

Chromogenic color print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Ginger Shore, Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida, November 17, 1977

Ginger Shore, Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida, November 17, 1977 is indicative of the way in which Shore's work in Uncommon Places developed over the course of the 1970s. This image, taken with an 8 x 10 view camera, is from near the chronological and sequenced end of the series. The image is highly saturated and two-thirds of the picture plane is encompassed by a turquoise swimming pool, patterned with light. This photograph is dominated by diagonals; a silver railing in the foreground leads the swimmer into the pool and the viewer into the image, while the edge of the pool cuts diagonally toward the top of the image, separating a receding set of lounge chairs and another body of water. At the centre of the image is a woman, with wet hair, standing in the pool, looking away from the camera, dressed in a royal blue bathing suit.

Shore's expressive use of vivid color is particularly noteworthy in this image. The bright, acidic blue of the swimming pool produces an emotional response from the viewer, linking them with the world of the image whilst refusing to signpost or label particular feelings. The cream skin of Shore's model, Ginger, who would later become his wife, matches the tones of the patio at the edge of the pool, drawing the viewer's attention to the sunlight on her arms and shoulders; the suggestion that it is the side that faces away from the viewer that is bathed in light and that reveals her identity provokes a sense of distance and longing which, in turn, provokes consideration of the moment, now lost, that the camera has captured. Shore's images in Uncommon Places make an argument for its value at a time when it was frequently dismissed as detracting from form and light. It is the repetition of blues and tan tones that serves, in this image, to draw the viewer's attention to the diagonal planes in the image and to the play of light on various surfaces. Shore felt that color provided images with an honesty, allowing him to communicate the experience of seeing as opposed to the translation of the world into a piece of art further separated from it.

Chromogenic color print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


New York City 2000/2002

This black and white photograph shows six people walking along a sidewalk, past a building and away from the camera, moving from the right foreground toward the upper left corner of the frame. In this corner, an address above the building's door reveals the photograph to be taken at 211 Broadway, in New York City's financial district. The figures appear oblivious to Shore's presence, betraying no signs of stopping or turning to look at the photographer, and are spaced at uneven intervals, suggesting that they also bear no relationship to one another. The street is bathed in a harsh sunlight and exposed for the shadows, such that the brightest areas in the images are almost overexposed, creating a suggestion of warmth despite the long pants and jackets many of the figures wear.

Stephen Shore returned to working in black and white in the 1990s, due to a desire to expand his practice through experimentation. Street photography had previously been dominated by small, often handheld, cameras; view cameras were seen as difficult to work with due to the long exposure times that they required and to their bulk. Shore began to work with this camera, capturing 4 x 10 images on 8 x 10 film, to capture pedestrians, looking for moments, often at corners and crosswalks, at which people slowed down such that there was no motion blurring in an exposure of a half or quarter second. In these images, the point at which Shore pressed the shutter became much more important, due to the role that pedestrians play in the composition; the rhythm and spacing of the six figures in this shot is dependent upon the photographer's timing. In using a camera which posed specific challenges to the genre of street photography, Shore creates a new kind of portrait of the people of New York City in which individuals, who cannot be identified in this image, are subsumed into the collective. It hints at existing examples of the genre; Paul Strand's 1915 Wall Street similarly shows anonymized pedestrians bathed in harsh light, but Shore's image rejects the monumentality of Strand's portrayal of workers through photographing the street from a lower and closer angle, reducing the drama of the scene. This image was printed at a large scale, unlike Shore's earlier work, leading the audience to feel included in, rather than distanced from, the scene, subverting expectations of black and white photography as creating a barrier between audience and subject.

Gelatin silver print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Jerusalem, Israel, January 9, 2010

This image depicts a woman walking past a sand-colored wall with greying stains on it, above which is a building of similar tones. It is divided into thirds; the bottom third is grey in base and comprises the road and sidewalk, the middle third is the site for the photograph's action, providing the plane against which the figure is defined, and the top third is more cluttered, with plants, benches, windows and railings surrounding the building in the background. There are shadows stretching across the spaces of the image; the woman is framed by those of a tree and a vertical post, whilst casting her own strong shadow on the wall, and the building at the top of the image relays the fronds of the palm tree before it, which is otherwise cropped at the trunk.

Shore has regularly accepted commissions alongside his artistic work. This photograph, taken as part of a commission for which he travelled to Israel and the West Bank, is indicative of the ways in which Shore's approach to his commercial work is contiguous with that of his artistic work; Shore avoids Israel's politically and emotionally charged sites in favor of creating a set of images apart from the media discourse, focused on everyday life rather than on the charged nature of land. The image's title provides the only hint of the location in which it was taken, leaving the audience to provide their own interpretations of the scene. Shore was one of twelve photographers commissioned to work on this project, which was organized by Frédéric Brenner, an artist deeply invested in the portrayal of Jewish community internationally. Shore had little previous knowledge of Israel, save for archaeological digs that he had visited in 1994, and left feeling unsure of his understanding of the conflict and his political position. Shore has commented on the way in which his own position as an outsider in this part of the world led him to avoid images that suggest conclusions, instead using the camera as a means of conveying his curiosity about the sites portrayed. This image is one of hundreds taken by Shore and their variety and complexity serve to undermine narratives that simplify or generalize life in Israel.

Chromogenic color print - Private Collection


Tsal Groisman, Korsun, Ukraine, July 20, 2012

From a series that Shore shot of Holocaust survivors in Ukraine, this image shows an elderly man, Tsal Groisman, smiling as he looks up and out of the left side of the frame. He is standing, dressed in brown shoes, blue pants and grey jacket, decorated with many medals, and holds a metal cane. Groisman's shoulders are back, though his posture is relaxed, giving him a dignified appearance that suggests he carries himself proudly. He is framed by green bushes and trees, through which a wooden fence is visible. In presenting photographs from this series, Shore has accompanied portraits with stories told by the subjects of the images; Groisman spoke of his survival through enlisting in the Red Army and his subsequent meeting with a dying German soldier who asked for water, which Groisman gave him while reminding the soldier that he had tried to kill him because he was Jewish.

In this series, Shore turns toward the question of depicting subject matter with a strong emotional charge. It springs from his wife's discovery of a charity supporting Holocaust survivors who, due to their geographical location, are ineligible for German reparations; Ginger Shore suggested that her husband photograph these people. Stephen Shore took this suggestion and travelled to Ukraine to make portraits of the survivors, beginning in the province from which his own paternal grandfather emigrated in the 1890s. He has spoken of his interest in setting himself formal problems to solve, noting that in this case he was interested in the challenge of taking a photograph of emotional subject matter which neither avoided this subject matter nor verged into illustration, instead communicating a feeling without simply connecting it to the label of 'Holocaust.' In this image, history is communicated subtly, with the badges on Groisman's jacket suggesting a military past without informing the audience of the nature of this past; the tilt of his head, taking his gaze out of the photograph, distances the subject from the viewer, suggesting his thoughts and experiences are unavailable to those regarding the photograph. The plants that surround Groisman serve to anchor the image temporally; it has been taken in a season in which everything is green, but the plant, like many of those who survived the Holocaust, must eventually die. This knowledge, on the part of the viewer, communicates the urgency of the experiences that Groisman holds within him, which is within human memory at present, but cannot remain so indefinitely. In taking a portrait which presents historical events as embodied memories, Shore is able to subtly draw the audience's mind to the unfathomable nature of these recollections.

Chromogenic color print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Biography of Stephen Shore


Stephen Shore was born in 1947 and grew up on New York City's Upper East Side. Shore's family was Jewish, and he was the only child. The family owned a succesful business and Stephen lived a privileged existence, with annual trips to Europe and regular exposure to art and other forms of culture. He was given a darkroom set by an uncle when he was six, which he used to develop his family's snapshots, taken with a simple and inexpensive Kodak Brownie, often experimenting with different ways of printing the images using cardboard masks. Shore had little practice taking his own photographs, however, until the age of nine, when his parents bought him a 35 mm camera.

Shore continued to benefit from the support of the adults around him; at age ten, a neighbor, president of a large music publishing company, gave him Walker Evans's American Photographs, a seminal work of documentary photography that would have a significant impact on Shore's own approach. Shore left the Upper West Side in 1959 to attend boarding school in Tarrytown, New York, where the headmaster, William Dexter, was an avid photographer who encouraged Shore by offering him access to his darkroom. Shore felt that his first successful photographs were taken while in Tarrytown, though he subsequently returned to New York City to attend high school at Columbia Grammar.

At fourteen, Shore took advantage of the Museum of Modern Art's open submissions policy for photographic portfolios, telephoning Edward Steichen, Director of the Department of Photography, and arranging to meet with him. Steichen was struck by the quality of Shore's work and purchased three photographs showing scenes from Shore's everyday experiences of New York City. Shore's relationship with the Museum of Modern Art continued after John Szarkowski took Steichen's place in 1962. Shore later described Szarkowski as among his greatest teachers, providing the teenager with a wider perspective on the world of photography and offering advice and guidance toward his development.

Education and Early Training

As a teenager, Stephen Shore was interested in film alongside still photography, and in his final year of high school one of his short films, entitled Elevator, was shown at Jonas Mekas' Film-Makers' Cinematheque. There, Shore was introduced to Andy Warhol and took this as an opportunity to ask if he could take photographs at Warhol's studio, the Factory, on 42nd Street. Warhol's answer was vague and Shore was surprised to receive a call a month later, inviting him to photograph filming at a restaurant called L'Aventura. Shore took up this offer and, soon afterward, began to spend a substantial amount of time at the Factory, photographing Warhol and the many others who spent time there. He had, by this point, become disengaged with his high school classes and dropped out of Columbia Grammar in his senior year, allowing him to spend more time at the Factory.

Shore came to see the Factory as an equivalent to formal artistic education, allowing him access to many others from whom to learn and a space in which to experiment with photography. He has been remembered by those he knew at the Factory as a quiet teenager who was trusted to document work, parties and downtime, capturing many of the famous figures in Warhol's circles, as they worked, posed and relaxed. Shore has spoken of his own friendship with Warhol as particularly influential; he learnt to value the everyday imagery of North American life, developed an interest in ideas of serialization and became firm in his belief that experimentation and change was an important aspect of artistic development.

Shore's images were used in the Moderna Museet's 1968 exhibition of Andy Warhol's work. Shore saw this as a significant moment in his artistic development as the editor of the catalog, Kaspar Koenig, introduced him to Ed Ruscha's work, sensing that this would interest him. Soon after this, Shore stopped spending time at the Factory, wishing to avoid creative stagnation and ensure his own independence as an artist. Shore began to move beyond the documentary tradition, focusing on the conceptual sequences for which he would become known. In 1971, he curated 'All the Meat You Can Eat' in a SoHo loft, scandalizing visitors with an exhibition in found photographs, including advertisements, pornographic images, postcards, family memorabilia and formal portraits of politicians, which were pasted across the wall. In the same year, Shore gave some of his own photographs to John McKendry, Head of Prints and Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, soon afterward, was given an exhibition at the institution, which had only that year changed its policies to allow solo shows by living artists. He was, at this point, twenty-three and yet to begin the work for which he would be best recognized.

Mature Period

In 1972, Shore set off on a photographic journey across the United States, driving from New York City through the Carolinas and across Texas and New Mexico before returning through the Midwest. Using a simple Rollei camera, Shore shot almost 100 rolls of film which he subsequently culled into the series American Surfaces. He continued these trips in subsequent years, switching to a 4x5 Crown Graphic camera at the end of 1972 and to an 8x10 view camera at the end of 1973, creating his best-known series, Uncommon Places. With each shift in camera, Shore's compositional decisions became more considered, carrying him away from the snapshot aesthetic of his early color images.

Shore's photographic work and professional success was undoubtedly informed and assisted by his friendships with many significant postwar artists. His relationships at the Factory, MoMA, and the Metropolitan Museum had developed into a network that included Ed Ruscha, Dennis Oppenheim, Christo and Jean-Claude, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander.

In 1975, Shore's images of North America were included in the seminal exhibition 'New Topographics,' at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, alongside that of Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Lewis Baltz, among others. The exhibition was notable in establishing a movement in which photographers showed places as they were, rather than as idealized sites in the romantic tradition. The exhibition was also the beginning of Shore's friendship with Bernd and Hilla Becher, which continued for many years.

Shore met Ginger Cramer, his future wife, in 1976. She began to accompany him on his trips, despite understanding that these were for work, not leisure, and assisted him with tasks such as carrying equipment. Toward the end of the decade, Shore began to feel that he had changed as a photographer and as an individual, no longer untethered, which drew his project of photographing North America's roadsides to a close. In the early 1980s, Stephen Shore married Cramer and moved with her to Bozeman, Montana, where the pair could indulge their mutual love of fly fishing.

Shore continued to work with an 8x10 camera for the next two decades, but switched focus every few years, believing that setting oneself new challenges was an essential part of being an artist. Shore used his time in Montana as an opportunity to focus on landscapes, considering the problem of representing the scale and three-dimensionality of nature's vastness without including manmade indicators within images. Upon returning to New York, in the 1990s, he began experimenting with street photography, using black-and-white film to shorten the extended exposure time required with his large camera. He began to work as a commercial fashion photographer, taking pictures for magazines and fashion labels including AnOther Magazine, Elle, and Bottega Veneta.

Since 2000, Shore has experimented with digital photography. He began to use a compact digital camera to shoot sequences constrained by time, which were printed in books, many of which began with headlines from The New York Times and focused on the day on which the paper was printed. In 2014, he joined Instagram and has been interested in exploring the constraints and conventions of the online photo sharing platform; in taking pictures specifically intended for the platform, he has returned to the visual diary format for which he became known whilst providing insight into his process and prompting dialogue with his audience.

The Legacy of Stephen Shore

Shore played a central role in establishing color photography as an art form, leading to more widespread questioning of the distinction between the snapshot and the calculated work of artists focused on form and tonal contrast. Shore's use of color opened up the possibility for subsequent artists; Nan Goldin has spoken of his work informing her use of candid color images arranged in slideshows, while Joel Sternfeld's use of color to capture the rural United States draws heavily from Shore's example. Shore's friendship with Bernd and Hilla Becher led to their use of his images when teaching in Düsseldorf and the impact of Uncommon Places on the representation of the environment in anti-romantic style that show humanity's impact and interaction with place can be seen clearly in the work of Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth, who named his first book Unconscious Places (1987) in reference to Shore.

Despite his own lack of formal education, Shore's role in shaping the curriculum and attracting high caliber photographers to teach at Bard College, where he has been Director of the photography department since 1982, is notable. Shore is a dedicated teacher, describing this as "as much [his] life and [his] profession as photography." Under Shore's leadership, Bard College became known for celebrating Straight Photography at a time when photography programs were increasingly gravitating toward a focus on mixed media approaches such as collage. Shore's curriculum is strictly regimented, with students being introduced to color only in their second year and digital cameras in their third year; a semester using a large-format manual view camera is compulsory. Many students at Bard have credited Shore's educational approach with developing their own disparate styles of photography; those who have achieved particular success and acclaim include Lucas Blalock, Paul Salveson, Shannon Ebner, Tim Davis, and Matthew Porter. Shore's educational approach has had an impact beyond Bard; he lectures frequently at other institutions and a book based on one of his classes, The Nature of Photographs, has become a seminal text.

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