Exhibition Review: Stephen Shore
By Ilana Jael
Renowned photographer Stephen Shore found his calling early, developing his parents’ negative at six, acquiring his first camera at nine, and selling three prints to the prestigious Museum of Modern Arts at only 14. 56 years later, his genius and legacy has expanded sufficiently that since November, a full half of the institution’s third floor has been devoted to Stephen Shore, the most comprehensive exhibition ever organized of the artists’ works. Watching the “development” of this photographer is a pleasure, starting with his youthful days exploring to the tradition of disenchanted New York street photography and becoming a close confidante of Andy Warhol and privileged documentarian of his inner circle.
The exhibition features plentiful shots of Warhol himself, many showcasing the famously “cerebral” artists’ less remembered social and theatrical side. In one print, Warhol, sunglassed and standing directly in the limelight, throws his head back dramatically while standing between actor Rod LaRod and director Paul Morrissey. In another, he strokes his chin playfully next to a posing Ingrid Superstar, and in another appears mesmerized by a smoking, sensual Edie Sedgewick. Other prominent Factory figures like Lou Reed, Marcel Duchamp, and Renee Ricard are here immortalized with the unique intimacy only an insider like Shore could offer.
In 1971, Shore ventured to Amarillo, Texas for his first color project, one of the first serious photographers to take advantage of the innovation and instrumental in its eventual proliferation. A road trip through the Southern United States became the basis of landmark series American Surfaces, which documented his “unremarkable” everyday life during his travels. His subjects were firmly in the realm of the ordinary; meals, motels, gas stations, tv sets, toilets, small town people and small town pets. But the crystal clear and incisive manner in which Shore captures these mundanities makes this “diaristic” project an irresistibly captivating one.
A focus on the “banal, human-made, American landscape” was a theme Shore continued to explore in Uncommon Places, and that greatly influenced the style and concerns of the generations of American photographers that followed. Having achieved unprecedented insight into Americana, Shore later took his expert eye abroad, first to Luzzara, Italy, where he was intrigued by the interplay between traditional culture and modern, and then to the West Bank and Ukraine.
Along with hundreds of his fascinating photographs, this exhibition also features Shore artifacts like print-on-demand books the artist created, a poster for an early, avant-garde exhibition of his All The Meat You Can Eat, a flyer for a conceptual art piece masquerading as a Get Rich Quick scheme, and magazine spreads from publications like U. S Camera, Modern Photographer and J. Crew. We also take a look at some of his cameras, among them the playful mouse shaped Mick a Matic, a Rollei 35, a Graflex Crown Graphic, an Olympus E-20, and his current device of choice; an iPhone.
Attesting to the fact that the innovative Shore still hasn’t stopped changing with the times, in 2014 he moved his photographic practice primarily to Instagram, and his account was also showcased at MOMA on several digital stations. Whatever else photography’s future might hold, it will certainly owe in large part to Shore’s timeless contributions; and this is your last week to check them all out for yourself!