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Matinee: 'How To See: Stephen Shore' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

27 January 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 134th in our series of Saturday matinees today: How To See: Stephen Shore.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York is currently exhibiting Stephen Shore, which spans some 50 years of the photographer's work from his first pictures in Andy Warhol's Factory to his road trips across America.

This 10:47 video, part of the How to See video series from the Modern, follows Shore as he tours the exhibit. You couldn't have a better guide.

He met Warhol when he was 17 and became convinced photography was more interesting than school could be. So he dropped out of high school to pursue photography. He points out his first selfie and a movie he made.

In the early '70s he became interested in vernacular photography, moving into color (which was everywhere by then). He shows us some of this work from that era before moving on.

The next room contains his exhibit American Surfaces, which were pictures not burdened by visual conventions, he says, but intended to feel like the act of seeing itself. How? At random moments he would just take "a screen shot" of his peripheral vision to see what he was looking at without particularly noticing.

He started using a view camera after that. Uncommon Places, the result of these large format shots, created a small world full of details for the viewer to explore. He shows us one shot of city scene in which after studying it a moment, you can make out a window with a boy in it whose breath had fogged the glass.

This led him to compose images that fill the frame with "conscious attention," he explains, almost the opposite of the random American Surfaces images. Every structural relationship was considered in composition. And he points them out, every one, in an image of a gas station that is full of these structural relationships.

He and his wife moved to Montana in 1980. To avoid shooting landscapes with the sensibility of a New Yorker marveling at the natural beauty, he spent two years acclimating himself to his new surroundings. Taking hikes through the landscape was one method he used. When he felt he was part of the landscape, he started shooting, marveling at how a deep focus image gives you the feeling you are refocusing as you look deeper into the landscape. But it's an illusion because the print is a two-dimensional piece.

Then he moved to the Hudson Valley in New York where the high school dropout ironically taught at Bard College. What could he teach these liberal arts students who were not going into the profession about photography?

Conscious attention, he says.

To see more of Shore at the Modern, take a look at Episode 8 of the Modern's At The Museum series. It's the Season 1 finale, in which he visits the installation in progress and advises MoMA Chief Curator of Photography Quentin Bajac on a few finishing touches.

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