Stephen Shore (1947-) was born in New York City and became interested in photography from an early age. At the age of six, he already had his own darkroom kit. Before he turned ten, he was making colour photographs from a 35mm camera. He was first influenced by Walker Evans’s book, American Photographs, and began his photographic career when he turned fourteen.

Shore was ambitious from the start and in 1961 he personally phoned Edward Steichen, the director of MoMA’s Department of Photography. Shore was only fourteen years old, but the director bought three of his prints. Three years later, Shore met the famous artist Andy Warhol who was so impressed by his talent and passion at a young age that he gave him an open invite to his studio, the Factory. Shore took the offer and for two years came daily to photograph Warhol and all the others that frequented the studio.

In 1971, Shore became the second living photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Afterwards, he decided to travel the United States and Canada on multiple road trips photographing the journey. This is when he focus and interest in color photography really grew. While he had started on a 35mm camera, he began experimenting with a 4×5 view camera before settling on large 8×10 format.

In 1976, Shore had a colour exhibition at the MoMA in New York and in 1982 he published his first book, Uncommon Places. This work helped him become an icon of early colour photography. Whilst colour photography wasn’t respected like black and white at the time, Shore was a pioneering force in using the medium in a way that could be considered art. His images focused on the complete scene more than specific subjects. Much of the time, they were photographs of normal, even banal, subject matter found in day-to-day life, but Shore saw things that he could capture in such a way to make them look like art.

Shore also worked in fashion photography, for stores, magazines and advertising. Since 1982, Shore has been the director of the photography department at Bard College, while recently spending time photographing Ukraine and Israel.

He has often been considered alongside other artists who rose to prominence in the 1970s by capturing the mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images. But Shore has worked with many forms of photography, switching from cheap automatic cameras to large-format cameras in the 1970s, pioneering the use of colour before returning to black and white in the 1990s, and in the 2000s taking up the opportunities of digital photography, digital printing, and social media.

According to Wikipedia, Shore “is an American photographer known for his images of banal scenes and objects in the United States and for his pioneering use of colour in art photography." The colours aren’t especially rich, the scene not dramatic; it’s simply using colour to show life as it is, while keeping the composition of the frame as the most important element… in other words, it’s photography.

Uncommon Places

Stephen Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’ finds the beauty in the most mundane. His sprawling vision of America has become a contemporary classic, a landmark of visual Americana, influencing a generation of photographers to take to the highway.

Manhattan. In 1972, I set out with a friend for Amarillo, Texas. I didn’t drive, so my first view of America was framed by the passenger’s window. It was a shock.”

This awakening clearly heavily impacted the young Shore whose eye was drawn to everyday objects as though he was seeing everything for the very first time.

Originally published in 1982, Shore’s large-format colour work was an attempt to articulate the visual components that signify America. The matter-of-fact approach he was forced to take whilst shooting with an 8×10 camera renders his subjects and objects immortal with a cold objectivity. But his choice of subjects and decision to include them in his series demonstrates an encyclopaedic intuition of his native land.

Bothered by the grain on the photos from previous projects, Stephen Shore found the impetus to use larger, more detailed negatives and returned to the roads of America with a 4×5 press camera, which he later exchanged for an 8×10.

No longer pointing at singular objects, the photos collected in Uncommon Places feel less like snapshots or peepholes into Shore’s life on the road but more like vast inhabitable spaces in which the viewer could almost clamber into and view from the inside.

Since the use of large format camera meant that each photo took Shore approximately 20 minutes to compose and photograph, his working method changed entirely, and with that, his style.

A small departure from American Surfaces, Uncommon Places condensed vast amounts of pictorial information into every frame, meaning that Shore no longer needed to explicitly articulate his photographs in a contextual manner. Shore explains ‘because it’s so detailed that the viewer can take time and read it; they can pay attention to a lot more.’

Following on the same roads as Robert Frank and Walker Evans before him, the American archetypes Shore collects also represent places of ambiguous personal importance; for instance the interior of a hotel room, perhaps where some epiphany may have taken place.

Not exclusively presenting landscapes and open roads, Stephen Shore also documents his friends, his lovers and other such seemingly insignificant details of his daily life which he frames with the eloquence of a poet.

Uncommon Places is a distillation of Shore’s decade-long cross-country travels, in a mere 61 unsentimental, yet somehow lucid, photos. Finding the subtle strangeness and beauty in parking lots and billboards, these places reveal themselves for what they truly are; places with their own stories to tell. On repeat viewings, new narratives evolve from the depths of each picture; a parking lot speaks of the fulfilled dream of the American auto industry; the iconic image of the billboard depicting a majestic mountain scene mocks the landscape whose view it obstructs. Here are the clues of the American dream, condensed and packaged with intuition.