Finding the beauty in America's mundanity

[Original Post] Written by Francesca Gavin, CNN Stephen Shore’s remarkable career started early. Born in New York in 1947, he was given his first photography set at six. When he was 14, the trailblazing fashion photographer Edward Steichen — then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — purchased three of […]

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[Original Post]

Written by Francesca Gavin, CNN

Stephen Shore’s remarkable career started early. Born in New York in 1947, he was given his first photography set at six. When he was 14, the trailblazing fashion photographer Edward Steichen — then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — purchased three of his photos. By 17, he was a regular at Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory, photographing the artist and the eccentric personalities who surrounded him.

“It was the most exciting place to be in New York City in the mid ’60s,” recalls Shore, now 71. “This is essentially what I did instead of going to college. These were my college years. I was a senior in high school when I met Andy, and I dropped out of high school in the middle of my senior year.”

"Los Angeles, California, February 4, 1969" (1969) by Stephen Shore

“Los Angeles, California, February 4, 1969” (1969) by Stephen Shore Credit: Courtesy Stephen Shore/303 Gallery, New York

Shore’s parents weren’t thrilled. “I had parties at their apartment, and Andy would come over. There was one night at one of these parties, for some reason, my mother befriended Nico (the German performer and Velvet Underground collaborator) and sat in the kitchen with her giving her milk and matzohs. Nico told her her life story. They spent hours (talking).”

But after three years, Shore was ready to move on. “I think I’ve always been ambitious. I saw people there, it was clear this was the golden age in their life. I really lucked out being at the right place at the right time. But I wanted to get on with my life, and I didn’t want to be just a person at the Factory.”

"Los Angeles, California, February 4, 1969" (1969) by Stephen Shore

“Los Angeles, California, February 4, 1969” (1969) by Stephen Shore Credit: Courtesy Stephen Shore/303 Gallery, New York

At 23, he had a major solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — only the second show dedicated to a living photographer in the museum’s history. With his striking images of the seemingly banal — decaying cars in the woods, a lawn in Texas, a Manhattan sidewalk — he defined an enduring image of Americana, and helped establish color photography as an art form.

This week, Shore is in London for a short exhibition coinciding with the fifth edition of Photo London. As the fair’s Master of Photography, he’s exhibiting two bodies of work. One series, shot before Shore made the leap from black-and-white to color, follows a day he joined his father on business trip to Los Angeles in 1969.

“He had a car and driver for the day. I just took pictures out the car window,” Shore remembers.

It would be facile to look at Shore’s images and focus on a sense of the historical. The cars and signs could date the images to an American past, but, for Shore, the work feels surprisingly contemporary. Many of the streets have not changed that much over half a century. (“I think the people are nostalgic. The work isn’t nostalgic,” he adds.)

"Los Angeles, California, February 4, 1969" (1969) by Stephen Shore

“Los Angeles, California, February 4, 1969” (1969) by Stephen Shore Credit: Courtesy Stephen Shore/303 Gallery, New York

Movement and traveling has always been central to Shore’s work. Road trips were a repeated narrative structure. “I felt like an explorer. I grew up in Manhattan and didn’t learn to drive until I was in my 20s,” he says.

“I can get into this box that I feel very secure in, and it’s like my space and I can go anywhere. People in the States drive distances that I don’t know if people in Europe think of.”

"New York, New York, March 11, 2018" (2018) by Stephen Shore

“New York, New York, March 11, 2018” (2018) by Stephen Shore Credit: Courtesy Stephen Shore/303 Gallery, New York

There is a sense of distance in Shore’s view of the middle-American landscape. His introduction to the rural landscape were friends living in Amarillo, Texas in the late 1960s. He would go on trips for a few months, driving all day and taking precise images of the everyday landscape and interiors, people and places he passed. The food on his plate. A bland motel room. Gas stations and shop windows.

The second series on view at Photo London, comprising incredibly detailed large-scale color images drawn from his Instagram account, continues in that spirit: Images of crumbled bags, blown twigs and other detritus suggest what Shore calls “a kind of organic poetry of form.”

"New York, New York, May 19, 2017" (2017) by Stephen Shore

“New York, New York, May 19, 2017” (2017) by Stephen Shore Credit: Courtesy Stephen Shore/303 Gallery, New York

Shore admits the mundane forms the heart of his practice. “I always was interested in everyday experience. Rather than finding something unusual to photograph, I was always interested in seeing attentively things that are around us all the time,” he explains.

“I was interested in communicating the experience of seeing the world with heightened attention. I think there’s something to be gained by normal life and to things we do every day.”

Top image: Detail of “Los Angeles, California, February 4, 1969” (1969) by Stephen Shore

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