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Stephen Shore - Biography and Legacy

American Photographer

Movements and Styles: Straight Photography, Documentary Photography

Born: October 8, 1947 - New York City

Stephen Shore Timeline

"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."

Stephen Shore Signature
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Biography of Stephen Shore


Stephen Shore was born in 1947 and grew up on New York City's Upper East Side. Shore was the only child of Jewish parents running a handbag company and 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, 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

Stephen Shore in 2009
Stephen Shore in 2009

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.

Most Important Art

Stephen Shore Famous Art

Rene Ricard, Susan Bottomly, Eric Emerson, Mary Woronov, Andy Warhol, Ronnie Cutrone, Paul Morrissey, Pepper Davis (1967)

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.
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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Anna Blair

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Anna Blair
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First published on 25 Jun 2018. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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