“One of the things that interest me is to communicate what the world looks like in a state of heightened awareness. I know that there is a part of me which thinks that can be best communicated in the most ordinary scene. For example, like my image of the painting of mountains on the billboard. I think it’s a wonderful picture. But there is something in me that says it’s easy. That didn’t take a great insight to see it. I would have to think that anyone who drove down that road that day would have to notice it.”
Shore’s interest revolves not so much around Architecture with a capital “A,” but around “unconscious,” unplanned, vernacular, and commercial buildings found mainly (but not exclusively) along U.S. highways and in the American West. This interest distinguishes him from an architectural photographer, whose main objective usually lies in deciphering and visualizing, from the appearance of a building, the architect’s formal intentions and spatial imaginary, and translating them into compelling two-dimensional representations of those concepts. The translation from three-dimensional space to two-dimensional surface is fundamental for Shore’s work as well; but for him, these representations — whether domestic or urban in character — are signifiers less of an individual’s will to form than of a specific cultural condition. Paradoxically, it is only through a clear formal assertion on the photographer’s part and through devices such as framing, point of view, exposure, and so on that his images take on a symbolic, almost meta-physical dimension that points to a truth beyond the apparent surface. Shore has stated in this regard: “There is an old Arab saying, ‘The apparent is the bridge to the real.’ For many photographers, architecture serves this function.” It is no coincidence, then, that Shore is regularly considered an attentive interpreter of everyday American culture.
Shore has recounted a telling anecdote regarding the topographic methodology that demonstrates his deep investment in the history of photography. When the influential American photographer Paul Strand in the early 1950s visited the northern Italian village of Luzzara, he reported in a letter to a friend that it was a difficult place to photograph because it lacked buildings of architectural interest. Taking this observation as a cue, when Shore traveled to Luzzara himself in 1993 on a commission, he applied his topographic approach to the town, returning with pictures of inconspicuous buildings, storefronts, and workshops. Unlike his pioneering color photography in Uncommon Places, in this work Shore used black and white, evoking, in combination with the worn facades of the featured buildings, a sensation of melancholy or even nostalgia. While the former was present in Uncommon Places from the beginning as well, the latter has equally invaded these pictures through the visible passing of time. Photography is invariably charged with temporality, and the shadow of time is involuntarily cast over the instant when the photo was taken.
Text: Martino Stierli (MoMa)