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Stephen Shore

Text from Heinz Liesbrock, in Stephen Shore: Photographs, 1973-1993

"...Shore's ability to react to fluid situations and translate the spontaneity unique to them into an image, using the heavy, difficult-to-set-up plate camera is seen in another photograph, one that has an apparently more confused structure. In El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975, he again selects a viewpoint facing a clear vertical, the back of a man waiting on the curb, thus initially giving the observer's gaze a fixed direction. On the sunlit island of sidewalk jutting into the foreground of the picture from two directions, there is a network of objects and their shadows from which individual aspects nevertheless seem to radiate, apparently autonomously: the tree that seems to have been placed on top of the concrete, and, to the right of it, an assembly of street signs (with the helmeted head at the center), which takes on its own values in terms of direction, surface, and color - values that may seem detached from the real spatial context of the picture. In general, in fact, the advertising and traffic signs in this picture are potentially released from their normal indicative character as graphics. They give the picture an ordered structure and a dynamic quality to the same degree that they momentarily step out of their context.

"Since he started taking color shots, Shore has exclusively produced contact prints of the negatives, which since 1974 have measured 8 x 10 inches (ca. 20 x 25 cm). No enlargement is involved, therefore, and the greatest possible directness is achieved in the relation between the negative and the print. Precisely against the background of the large-sized reproductions that have become common in international photography in recent years, it is well worth emphasizing the advantages of the contact print, as Shore uses it. Its relatively small format gives it the appearance of being a concise visual impression, in which a wealth of detail can nevertheless be perceived, and which invites the observer to read the image, to engage in a progressive process of understanding the individual elements it contains and the connections between them. The contact print gives the picture an extraordinary formal differentiation and a special succinctness in its use of color... The contact print, as Shore sees it, undoubtedly gives the photographic image a quality of aura that no enlargement can achieve. His pictures therefore have a special presence, in which the sensual conciseness is equally charged with an intellectual and spiritual force.

"Shore's understanding of color is an unmistakable part of the peculiar, special quality that his pictures have. He shares a preference for the obvious - taking color and as it were saturating it with reality - with other artists belonging to the "second generation of color photographers," which emerged at the beginning of the 1970s. Color no longer has a decorative status, but is conceived instead as a natural quality of everyday experience. Shore, however, manages above and beyond this to shape color into an entirely personal form of expression. Natural light stimulates the whole of the space in his pictures, and does not appear to be a special phenomenon in itself that is being used in an attempt to dramatize the formal structure. Shadow formations, when they appear, have a quite incidental quality, and in no way seek to emancipate themselves and become independent constructions. Shore usually registers sunlight entering from the side, and this also explains the specially saturated quality that the light has in his work. Color is really a quality of the light for him. This subdues any potential tendency for the color to become harsh; and equally, the light itself in this way acquires a special delicacy. The light is absorbed into the colored materiality of objects, and charges them with a restrained glow. The impression arises that color has been spiritualized; it constantly appears to be felt, at every point. And this explains the sudden change often observed when the pictures are studied for a longer period, when the color becomes an independent construct, although without disturbing the unity of the image. Above all, however, the image's saturation with reality in Shore's work arises from the color; it is the color that provides the vital connection with the world..."


 


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