All images courtesy of Stephen Shore, taken from the series Uncommon Places.
Much like Robert Frank and Walker Evans who preceded him, Stephen Shore began a relentless mission to capture micro and macro details of America by photographing extensively over a number of years. Being quiet a home bird, his first true taste of the country was when he took a trip with a friend to Amarillo, Texas. He experienced first hand a view through the window of car, and became exasperated with excitement with the new world that was opening up before him. So much so that he decided, later that year to set out alone to communicate and capture precisely what he had seen through that window. Shore had barely left New York where he was raised as a child, so understandably his investigative instincts were fuelled by the sheer expanse of the country surrounding him. Over a number of trips that he completed between 1972 and 1974, he collated numerous photographs together in a discursive series that was to be known as American Surfaces. The photographer proudly admits that he ‘was photographing almost every meal I ate, every person I met, every waiter or waitress who served me, every bed I slept in, every toilet I used.” In what can only be described as an obsessive recording of a vast expanse of things that he encountered, Shore proceeded to exhibit his work in a gallery by taping small machine-made prints onto the wall in a large grid. Road signs, portraits, buildings, toilets, interiors and cars were displayed with no apparent order, and not attributed any clear visual hierarchy. One can imagine that this extensive portrayal of the American vernacular stems from a deep rooted desire to explore and understand the surroundings that one has been long sheltered from.
Robert Adams theorised about reading landscape photography with a three-pronged approach. He suggested that to make a successful landscape photograph, three elements must be in place.“Landscape pictures can offer us, I think, three varieties – geography, autobiography, and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together … the three kinds of information strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life”.
Researching in depth this level of theory really helped me during this project, as it grounded my ideas with what I was trying to communicate. It really made me think deeply into the areas I was photographing, and by having a good level of academic understanding of theory meant I was producing work that was informed. Although I was going to different locations around the city and responding accordingly, I felt that my research informed the way in which I was seeing.