For more than 60 years, Stephen Shore has been turning everyday life into art. As one of the pioneers of color photography, Shore continuously challenges the established conventions of the medium by turning his camera to the mundane. A contemporary classic and a landmark of visual Americana, Uncommon Places is representative of Shore’s singular vision and uncompromising pursuit of the medium’s possibilities.
In 1982, Shore wrote: “Until I was twenty-three, I lived mostly in a few square miles in Manhattan. In 1972, I set out with a friend for Amarillo, Texas. I didn’t drive, so my first view of America was framed by the passenger’s window. It was a shock.”
Between 1973 and 1979, Shore made a series of trips across the country, exploring the changing culture of America and exploring how a photograph renders a segment of time and space in its scope. In finding the beauty in the mundane, Shore created a distinct body of work that influenced a generation of photographers to take to the highway.
Seeking to describe the world with unparalleled precision, Shore decided to use a large-format camera⎯equipment normally used only in studios by commercial photographers⎯which forced him to change his working process completely. The bulk of the large-format camera and the time it took to set up required a slow, deliberate working method, which led to conscious decision making. It also provided a density of details in his compositions that gave him a feeling of expanded consciousness. For this reason, each of these images presents a little world that you can examine, while they also force you to consider the larger worlds in which they existed.
Although titled Uncommon Places, the series presents a view of everyday life in America. Shore found subtle strangeness and beauty in crowded parking lots, busy and empty crossroads, oversized billboards, houses, brightly colored cars, interiors, and still-lifes⎯everything that makes up the American vernacular landscape. Every now and then, there is a portrait of friends or strangers. Before his lens, these objects assume both an archetypical aura and ambiguously personal importance. Each time you take a look, new narratives evolve from the depths of each picture, but the message conveyed in all of them seems to be the here and now. The series is a diary of sorts, but a diary of seeing. “I wanted to ask myself, what does seeing look like?” Shore wrote.
With 176 color photographs, the lushly produced 2014 reissue of Uncommon Places includes 20 more images than the previous 2004 edition, and 127 more than the original 1982 edition. It also includes the photographer’s statement explaining what it means to expand a series now many decades old, alongside an essay by Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen and a conversation between Shore and Lynne Tillman.
Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places: The Complete Works can be purchased from Aperture for $65.
All photos from Uncommon Places: The Complete Works (Aperture, 2015) © Stephen Shore. Specific credits (top to bottom): Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975; Room 219, Holiday Inn, Winter Haven, Florida, November 16, 1977; Horseshoe Bend Motel, Lovell, Wyoming, July 16, 1973.