October 25th, 2012

PPE 2012: Stephen Shore on Challenging Photography’s Conventions

In the 1970s, Stephen Shore, then a young photographer with one museum show to his credit, had dinner with Ansel Adams, the legendary landscape photographer. In the course of their conversation, Shore realized that he had no interest in taking beautiful pictures,  but only in “exploring the medium of photography.” During his keynote speech on the first day of PhotoPlus Expo, Shore shared roughly four decades of work exploring what a photo is, how a photographer creates a photographic image, and how the two dimensional picture plane conveys so much, including an illusion of three dimensional space, a reference to a place and a time, a wealth of cultural and historical references, and more.

One of Shore’s earliest encounters with photography came when he was eight years old and an uncle, seeing how much Shore enjoyed his darkroom kit, gave him a copy of Walker Evans’ American Photographs. “To say I was influenced by Walker Evans misses the point,” Shore said. “I feel a spiritual kinship with him.” Many of Evans’ interests, including his documentation of American culture and architecture, and his fascination with vernacular imagery, have also preoccupied Shore throughout his career. Shore noted that Evans’ work is a “paradigm” in the original, scientific sense of the word: unprecedented, but also open ended, allowing others to follow and continue the path the originator of the paradigm has forged.

The images Shore exhibited in his first show in 1971, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were highly conceptual, and inspired by the work of Ed Ruscha. At the same time, however, Shore was fascinated by vernacular images, and with two friends, he mounted an exhibit made up of police photos, press photos, pornography confiscated by a police officer in Amarillo, Texas, and postcards.