Shore’s oeuvre is widely appreciated today, yet his star doesn’t shine as brightly as it ought to.
When Stephen Shore became the first living photographer to have a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in 1971, he didn’t get a proper opening. The New Yorker noted in “The Talk of the Town” column in its March 6th issue that year that instead, Shore invited his friends, relatives, and parents to meet him at the museum on the evening of the first day of the show.
The fanfare for Shore’s photography arrived unfashionably late. His Met show wasn’t well-received: “The press coverage, what little there was of it, was uniformly terrible,” he told The Guardian in 2005. His color work was overshadowed by that of his peers; he struggled to find galleries to show his new work after his landmark series “Uncommon Places,” which was published in 1982; and his anthropologist’s eye was often misunderstood until the mid-1990s, when he found new popularity through his first retrospective in Germany. His now-revered 1970s body of work “American Surfaces” (1972–73) was finally published in book form in 1999, with a second edition in 2005 and a new one coming this spring from Phaidon.
Today, Shore’s oeuvre is more widely appreciated, yet his star doesn’t shine as brightly as it ought to. Shore didn’t receive his first major New York survey exhibition until 2017. The self-titled show at the Museum of Modern Art took place nearly six decades after the institution’s former curator, photographer Edward Steichen, acquired three of Shore’s photos while Shore was still a teenager.
Yet Shore has made an indelible impact on photography, teaching his viewers—and generations of students at Bard College—a different way to see. Here, we highlight four fundamental aspects of his work that have influenced the field.
Pioneering color photography
Shore has said that photographer Paul Strand warned him it would be “a disastrous career move” to show color work at his 1971 Met show. Strand’s expertly printed, mounted, and framed black-and-white images were on view in a neighboring room, while Shore’s small-format shots were printed in a Kodak lab and stuck plainly to the walls with double-sided tape.
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