Stephen Shore | Uncommon Places

When considering the work of Stephen Shore, I have owned the book Uncommon Places for around two months however at my current stage of heightened awareness of photographic philosophies, the task of engaging with the book with a clear mindset felt almost impossible. Although this post is based on my experience of the book, I feel that at this moment in time, the best I can do is consider the work of Shore in comparison with other contextual research I have engaged with throughout the surfaces and strategies module.

The book itself conforms to that of a catalogue with each image titled with the time and place. This is useful as the viewer is able understand the techniques or phase of experimentation that Shore was engaging with at the time. Schmidt Wulffen writes in Shore (1982) about the presentation of the book ‘viewers step into a specific place defined by Shore. In this way, the audience becomes involved in uncommon places, which can also be be seen as a biographical experiment’. Such comments make the decoding of the photographs more revealing, understanding the range of formats Shore utilised throughout different periods of his career in order to develop and take his work in different directions. Exemplifying what Shore states is his grammar of photography, flatness, frame, time and focus. Figure 1 is an example where this emphasis shifts with the focal point no longer arranged from the centre of the frame (Shore, 1982). Although still identifiable as a Shore image due to the semiotic union (Culler 1982) of the road markings, colour pallet of the cars which are juxtaposed, in addition to the sky which provides a surface to emphasise the building in the background and the street lamps. The color blue contained within the sky provides a richness which is synonymous with his work. Bringing the image together by creating a relationship between the background and foreground. What I really enjoy about Shoe’s work is the sense of boldness within his use of colour, being able to identify combinations and use them to create something that is quintessentially American and although dealing with the vernacular, he is able to create a sense of ‘being there’ transporting the viewer to another place in space and time. When contemplating figure 1, I am further drawn to the edges of the frame, in the omissions of the building to the left of the image and the blue vehicle to the right, we are unable to see what these elements look like, however Shore provides enough information for the viewer to make these connections for themselves. Being largely unable to view the opposite side of the road creates a tension which is universal. The sense of danger of being near a busy road and possibly the thoughts and feelings of how one might cross the road.

Figure 1 | West Market Street and North Eugene Street, Greensboro, North Carolina, January 23, 1976

Within these considerations it may be important to summarise and consider Shore in relation to my research of Eggleston and Alex Webb. All of whom are currently informing my work in the sense of thinking about composition and colour. Their relationship in terms of their relevance to my own work. Webb commenting on his pursuit of busy images that fall short of chaos (Webb 2014) in addition to Eggleston who has spoken of the use of the Confederate flag as a guide to composing his images. The images below I hope reflect the infomed context my work is taking. At present I am beginning to think carefully about the choices I make and will attempt to encompass what I have learned about the work of Shore in my shoots this week. One of which is a couple shoot away from my project however I am looking forward to experimenting in a different environment away from the current space I have been working in. 

Andrew Findlay | Creating Busy Images

Culler, J (1982) Culler, The Persuit of Signs, Routledge, London.

Eggleston, W. (2002) William Eggleston’s Guide. New York, The Museum of Modern Art.

Shore, S (1982) Uncommon Places, Thames and Hudson.

Webb, A and Webb, R (2014) On Street Photography and the Poetic Image. Aperture, New York

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