In 1971, American photographer Stephen Shore made history. At the age of 23, he became the first living photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By that time, the native New Yorker was well-established in his hometown, having sold his first work to the Museum of Modern Art at the age of 14 and spent his teen years documenting life inside Andy Warhol’s Factory.
That same year, he embarked on a project that would change the landscape of photography forevermore: a decade-long series documenting “main street” America in a series of road trips. Positioning himself as an explorer, Shore purchased a safari-style suit from Abercrombie & Fitch, which he donned on his very first expedition. His was a deceptively simple mission: to make images that were the visual equivalent of ordinary speech.
It’s been said a picture speaks a thousand words, but we’re usually thinking of who, what, where, when, and maybe why; how rarely enters our mind. But Shore was focused on not just the subject matter, the message, and the style — he wanted to preserve the very essence of vernacular America in the work itself. Using a large format camera, Shore captured the exquisite subtleties and extraordinary nuance of quotidian American life, which he later published in the groundbreaking monograph, Uncommon Places, 1973-1981 (Aperture, 1982).
An Extraordinary Rediscovery
Three years ago, while preparing a career retrospective at the MoMA, Shore came upon a forgotten archive of Kodachrome color slides that he made at the same exact time using a Rollei 35mm camera with flash mounted beneath it. The Rollei liberated Shore from the slow, nuanced deliberation of the large format camera; he could be more spontaneous and free, creating images that he likened to “the difference in musical keys.”
The new book, Stephen Shore Transparencies: Small Camera Works 1971–1979 (MACK), features a selection of these never-before-published works that employ the aesthetics of snapshot photography to distill and convey the magnificent mundanity of everyday life. Shore finds beauty in things we see, but rarely pause to look, to create a running commentary that describes things simply as they are: the white picket fence, the rotary phone, the barber shop window, and the corner liquor store all rendered with a loving eye — much like Andy Warhol, who found his deepest inspiration in the commonplace, recognizing the power of familiarity and ubiquity to tap our deepest desires.
By Miss Rosen
Transparencies: Small Camera Works 1971-1979 by Stephen Shore
Published by MACK
192 pages, $65