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 - Museum of Modern Art, New York