Stephen Shore's latest Aperture article

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by jonk, Dec 6, 2011.

  1. Shore writes about trying to remove conscious or unconscious pictorial models from his photographs. He even argues that only painters/sketchers can compose; photographers structure an image. To consciously use perspective is adding "art sauce". You have to photograph what the scene speaks to you. His sample photographs are helpful in making his point.
    I get a much better understanding of what Shore is trying to achieve in his "New Topography" photographs, but does his philosophy inherently limit comprehension by others? Amazon is full of books by Panofsky, Arnheim, and Gombrich on visual thinking, perspective as symbolic form, etc. Any comments on how they relate to Shore would be appreciated.
  2. You have to photograph what the scene speaks to you.​
    No you don't. No one has to photograph any particular way. Shore is welcome to structure rather than compose, to avoid conscious use of perspective because he doesn't want to add whatever he means by "art sauce," and to photograph "what the scene speaks to [him]." Just as Avedon is welcome to, in his words, shoot photographs that "don't go below the surface" and Winogrand is welcome to make photographs "to find out what something will look like photographed."
    No, it doesn't inherently limit comprehension by others. It's a way of seeing and a way he articulates his approach to making photos. Comprehending Shore isn't as important to me as looking at his photos. Many photographers and artists have less than stellar ways of expressing themselves about their art. As a matter of fact, there are probably critics, viewers, and historians who may comprehend Shore's art better even than he does, which is why he makes the stuff and others study it in context and from the standpoint of its relationship to history, etc.
    I would like to address what he says in the article, but can't find a link to it and don't subscribe to the magazine, so it's hard to discuss adequately what he says, other than to react to how you've characterized and very briefly summarized it. If you have a way of sharing the article with us, I'd love to read it and respond to what I'm sure is a thoughtful essay.
    . . . [D]oes his philosophy inherently limit comprehension by others?​
    Are you talking about his philosophy limiting the comprehension of that philosophy itself (in other words, does his philosophy defy comprehension?) or his philosophy limiting the comprehension of his photos? Photos don't necessarily have to be comprehended, though many can be and are better for it. Appreciation doesn't have to be accompanied by meaning or interpretation. Many visual and musical artists express themselves in such a way as to defy comprehension, almost purposefully. Their statements serve their works and are as often as not ambiguous by design, because words simply fail the task.
  3. I didn't read Shore's article in the same way at all. His use of "art sauce" was more in relationship to form as it relates to content, that it shouldn't be self conscious but rather reveal the content intended. Perspective might be somewhat related, but I think it is a totally different issue. In fact, IMO, his redux to reduce formal structure(form) revealed a much more a personal perspective and idea (content) than the original. The idea that the New Topographics movement was objective photography has been pretty well debunked over the years. It carried a very strong sense of individual perspective.
    I don't take any particular issue with Shore's words but the article could be seen as a thinly veiled advertisement for his new $8500 portfolio that includes only these two images--the actual ad for this is actually on the 3rd page of the magazine (maybe even his payment for the article).
    I like a lot of what Shore writes in general, it makes one stop and consider things in new or different ways--or at least casts things in new ways. His idea of structure is one such idea he has tossed out that makes us re-evaluate how we think about making images. While it suggests that we have no control on one level, it also suggests that we have a great deal of control other than just focal length and exposure. A painter stands in one place to control his image, we can move and choose.
  4. I personally do not enjoy (understand?) New Topographic, Becher, etc. photography and feel that I may be overlooking something useful to my own development as a photographer.
    For copyright reasons, I can't reproduce Shore's well written article, however, his decision that an apparently banal and unremarkable photo was preferable to his prior composed photo indicates to me that he comprehended something which I cannot. Thus my question if Shore represents (perhaps inadvertently) late 20th century theoretical discussions of the image in art.
    PS: I know it's OK not to like something
  5. While I have a number of Shore's books, I haven't read much of his writing, so the following is a guess at best. But what I think he might be trying to get at is the carrying forward of practices that are needed in the previous material to the current material where those practices are not required. For example, in the stone columns of classical Greek architechture, there are carved into the stone, features that were needed when wood was used but which were totally unneccessary when using stone. Likewise as bridge builders moved from stone to iron to steel, often design practices were carried forward that were entirely unnecessary in the new material.
    Shore seems to me to possibly be wanting us to at least notice that our material is (mainly) light -- it's not paint. Which means that the painter's detour through the mind, and the constructive effort needed to get something out the hand and onto a canvas is not necessary to the "material" of photography.
    In a book (that I happen to be looking at this morning), Exactitude: Hyperrealist Art Today, which is a book of photorealistic painting, the introduction includes this sentence, talking about one of the artists in the book:
    "He added line and mark to the language of photography, which is a dull surface of homogenised coloured dots."​
    "Coloured dots" are yukky; line and mark are great. I think perhaps Shore would reverse that claim -- not because this is a competition between painting and photography, but because he embraces his different medium -- the coloured dots, the light.
  6. Again, not having read Shore I can't discuss this from the standpoint of his take on the matter, but what Julie has written (which may well be what Shore meant) is very thought-provoking on a number of levels.
    Having been thinking about Stieglitz lately, there seems to be a similarity in terms of wanting to assert photography, moving it away from a painting sensibility. That makes more sense to me in Stieglitz's era than it does now. By now, I would think we could have come full circle and recognize and embrace our camaraderie with painters rather than needing so much to separate ourselves from them. Of course, it's a matter of personal vision and desire. There's, for sure, nothing wrong with Shore wanting to do that but I think by now most have noticed the unique aspects of photography and aren't dependent on the aesthetics of painting so much as drawn to that aesthetics almost as a universal way of seeing.
    For example, I don't think of my material as mainly light. I think of it as narrative and visualization/vision. Light, for me, is the life force behind the narratives and vision I seek out or discover. What I can learn from and share with painting, for me, is a bonus. As in the "reductive" thread, I tend not to be reductive, so don't often (though sometimes I might) feel a desire to reduce photographs to their main element or strip them down to what they alone can only be. I learned something a long time ago about myself which is that though many like to advise artists to let go of their minds and focus or rely completely on their emotions or instincts, I can't and have no desire to do that. While it took me some time to come to a passionate place in my life, I won't deny parts of me that are very much philosophical and intellectual Fred even while being always willing to explore parts of me that have gone underdeveloped. Seeing intelligence or mentality as a hindrance is not a limit I seem willing or able to impose on myself, though I never say never. For me, the mind is not part of the material of painting or photography. It's part of my own makeup.
    It reminds me of the thread where I got in trouble for suggesting there might be unique characteristics of digital photography that were worth exploring. A poster suggested we no longer call "photography" what he prefers to call "digital image-making," so we could more easily make that break from what he referred to as the "shackles" of photography. I don't see it as a break, any more than I see photography as a break from painting. If I am able to explore uniquely digital aspects of photos, I would bring to that all I've learned both from the history of photography and the history of painting. I don't have to wipe slates clean in order to move on. So, as Julie suggests, it might be worthwhile noticing what Shore is pointing out, but I'm not sure I'd want to take that as far as eliminating painterly aesthetics from my picture-making.
    One can, but one doesn't have to, throw the baby out with the bath water. I prefer wrapping the freshly-clean baby in a nicely-colored terry cloth towel and keeping him or her around.
  7. [Julie, I want to make clear that I don't think you're advocating here, but rather explaining what you think Shore is getting at, which is helpful considering I don't have the source material.]
  8. For reference, these are the two images(separate pages) that are the subject of the article by Shore.
    Fred and Julie, I find the discussion interesting but not necessarily what Shore was getting at. The issue for him had more to do with finding a visual solution that was right for the times. That expressed or fit with the reality of the day.
    The article starts out by his suggesting that before he made these photographs that his work had been exploring the structure of the photograph. Getting more and more challenging as the images became more structurally complex--the density of his images was increasing.
    While making the first image, he suggests that he was working with the one point perspective he had used in another image (here) a year earlier and how much more complex this current image. He talked about how he was managing/juggling as many of these "interstices" (Standard sign and pole beneath) as he could.
    He seems to suggest that while making this first image that he had a bit of an epiphany, that he had done what he set out to do in studying the structuring of an image but was finding that he was "imposing" a 17th century visual construct to relate to a 20th century reality. The "form and pressure of this age" was not being expressed. His solution, the next day and the second image, was to try to communicate his experience of being there without overlaying an overridding structural principle--thus making form more invisible allowing the artist's understanding and experience to become more apparent.
    I haven't done any real analysis of Shore's work with this information in hand to see if this in fact marks any major change in his approach, but the first image is certainly the more well known of the two and the one in his book, Uncommon Places--although there are certainly others more like this second one in the book.
    Throughout the article--short one at that--he did refer to several different painters and modes of expression and how there had been movements undertaken to assert a new way of looking/seeing--a new visual language. Although he doesn't suggest this here, I think he is trying to suggest the idea behind the New Topographics which was seen as a radical departure to presenting the Western Landscape. I remember well at the time this movement was becoming more known that it, as well as the work of several artists at the time, were being considered or described as "academic". Although the moniker did describe the genesis of much of the work I think it was just an euphemism for "I don't get it".
  9. Many good comments above...
    Julie's echo a story I read from Shore about being at a dinner party in the 1970's, and to his surprise, Ansel Adams was also a guest. He talked to AA, and the latter (after downing six vodkas) matter-of-factly remarked that in the 1940's he'd had a creative hot streak, but that since then, he's just been "boiling the pot". Shore's reaction was strong: Since then, he's been careful to avoid "boiling the pot" personally, taking great care to move on and avoid getting mired down in his own schtick.
    [I am not advocating what he said, just commenting on it and how it fits with the article in Aperture, which I haven't read, and what Julie said].
    I am of the belief that consciousness is ex post facto, and that the subconscious does most of the heavy lifting. This is not to say it is useless. Consciousness seems to play leapfrog well with the unconscious. They nudge and cajole each other like good friends who disagree on almost everything. And everybody seems to have their own proportion between the two, and it varies in trait and state factors. So the idea that where we stand (which sets perspective) should or should not be conscious escapes me.
    Photography re-entered the arts arena a long time ago, and did so on a very different plane than at its onset. Now it addresses many issues in common with painting, sculpture, etc. as a member of the family, not the read-headed bastard stepchild.
  10. John A. Thank you for your reading of Shore. For me, the issue is geometric and static, and organic and dynamic. I should read Shore. Thanks again.
  11. Thanks to John A, I see what the article is referring to. That was a turning point for Shore, one he has talked about in other articles and interviews. Very different pictures, specially regarding the imposition of order.
  12. Thanks for creating an appetite for the thoughts of Shore, who like Eggleston, ostensibly emulated the photorealistic painting approach and its subject matter and gave photography another direction (although Shore states that Frank considerably influenced his own approach), although one which I think may be destined to be less long-lived than may be thought, notwithstanding its popularity among art investors (and appreciators?). Initial resistance to rapidly popular new forms of visual expression (e.g., David Hamilton's dreamy images of nubile young women in idealic settings) is my little personal albatross, but one which usually gives way to a more prolonged, analytical and systematic reflection, when catalyzed by useful available feet-on-the-ground critiques by the cognisenti.
    If anyone has a link to some of Shore's thoughts, in addition to those appearing in Aperture, or to critical evaluations of his thoughts or work, or to those of other photorealistic influenced photographers (Eggleston, Burtynski, etc.), they would make good references here and I would be glad to read them.
  13. Eggleston cites HCB (books, not prints), Kandinsky, and Degas as influences. Long before photorealism (PR), what would become its subjects were the stuff of Atget and particularly Walker Evans (whom both and Frank trace back to). Eggleston was working in color at the same time PR was in its infancy. I'm not saying he wasn't influenced by it, but his early color development was simultaneous with that of PR. BTW, Shore's first MOMA show was all unframed Kodak machine prints (!). In the next room was a show by Paul Strand, all platinum and framed. Shore also cites Ed Ruscha as an influence on Uncommon Places. Warhol's conceptualism is something that Shore repeatedly mentions. And in American Surfaces, there's a flashed portrait of....William Eggleston.
    Two quick suggestions to articles on Shore and Eggleston (I do not see Burtinsky remotely near that league).
    For W.E.:
    For Shore:
    One more thing on Shore...the first trip he took, when all he carried was the Rollei 35mm, shows that what he would later "discover" with the two pictures around that intersection was a re-discovery. Look closely at American surfaces, his second book. The work precedes that in Uncommon Places. At ten years old he was reading Walker Evans, who takes us back to Atget.
  14. Luis said, "Look closely at American surfaces" ...
    Ummm ... no thanks. You can look at it from ten feet away and get the message. It's not exactly subtle.
  15. You can look at it from ten feet away and get the message.​
    Sometimes it's not the message that I look closely at. It's how the message is carried. It's what the photo looks like. I could spend hours looking at this work and a lot of other work, precisely to get past the message . . . which is often what I get from other people's summaries, not from my own looking. Message is over-rated.
    "Look closely" wasn't about messaging. It was about looking at the work in context, against history, as a matter of discovery, in light of his own previous work, relative to his influences. It was about connectedness.
  16. What page of American Surfaces did you find especially engaging?
  17. I look at it more as a body of work.
    Here's one I like. I spend time looking closely at the color work. It gives me ideas for my own work.
  18. So... Julie doesn't see anything in Shore's American Surfaces. But others here do, and are interested.
  19. Fred, the picture you linked isn't in American Surfaces.
  20. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the photorealist painters were the first artists to digitize photographs.
  21. Fred, the picture you linked isn't in American Surfaces.​
    I trusted the Internet. This guy has a blog entry where he claims to be showing several from American Surfaces. I guess he's wrong.
    In any case, I've looked at a lot of Shore's work on line. (I look at a lot of books, too, but am not in a financial position right now to buy and own a lot of them.) I imagine some of the ones that I'm seeing on line and are claimed to be from American Surfaces are. Too bad I picked one that seems not to be from there. Just imagine my picking another that actually is from the book and consider what I said about them as a whole, as well as what Luis described. And thanks for the correction.
  22. The underblown in art is often overblown, or is it the question of "the emperor's new clothes"? (Yes, yes, don't tell me, the museum directors and the cognoscenti are among the front line of the waiting crowds). Julie is applying I think her artistic senses in finding little in some of the images of the photo photo-realists. It appears to be a suicidal act to not find impressive the imagery and symbolism of the helter-skelter of consumer society suburbia or its shopping mall equivalent. Unless perhaps if one has a BFA or an MFA and speaks in hushed tones. Other than the virtues of applying a seasoned craft approach to compositional balance and to chromatic harmonies or dialogue, do these photographers provide a communication that is convincing?
    Pray that someone in the know take the time to dissect the elements of the images and their compositional and communicative forces and so inform the poor philistines. Conversion is possible, if reason is probable.
    Burtynsky is perhaps a new boy on the block, but I for one find his imagery arresting and very pertinent to our times. The series on the oil industry does not light any fires with me, but his Asian ship breakers, his metallurgical slag heaps and his mammoth quarries are I think well perceived and interpreted via his mind and large format lenses, and send a communication to their viewers that is not simply some frozen view of America as the not so beautiful and of suburbia as emblematic of current cultural values (the latter is a place I hastened to escape from as soon as possible as a youth, and as a rural immigrant I am now probably unable to appreciate the incarnation of suburbia and the consumer society via the photo photo-realist's photo emulsions and pixels).
    We need I think an "angry young men"* movement in photographic art, and one that is not burdened by the directions of the heroes of the past (so often quoted, and with little regard to the current young professional photographers of note worldwide) and the viewpoints of aging college art professors (I am presuming they are not very young, but really have no statistics to prove that, but it does often take time to achieve full professorships) and their disciples. I may well not know what I am talking about but I do know what I think is important.
    * À la theatrical movement of mid 20th century Britain.
  23. Julie is applying I think her artistic senses in finding little in some of the images of the photo photo-realists.​
    Not at all, she's advocating not looking closely. ("You can look at it from ten feet away and get the message.")
    What Luis and I seem to be talking about is our willingness to understand and spend time looking closely at photographers (even some of whom we may not like and some of whom we may find unimpressive). There are all kinds of reasons to look closely at all kinds of work, as Luis has pointed out.
    No one suggested anyone be impressed by Shore's work. I was advocating taking the time to look at it closely, which is what Julie was saying was unnecessary.
    I have neither a BFA nor an MFA and have never been accused of speaking in hushed tones. But I have determined it's helpful and important to look closely at a lot of different kinds of work, even and sometimes especially stuff I don't like. The "poor philistines" can do whatever they want. I'm not interested in converting even one of them. If I did manage to convert them, they might no longer be philistines and what fun would that be?
  24. Eggleston and Shore knew each other from early on, as the latter was at The Factory frequently, and W.E. was also there often, specially before and while dating Viva and teaching at Harvard (and juggling a wife and another misstress back home!). Eggleston also hung with Winogrand, Papageorge and Meyerowitz. Also Friedlander. They would have seen and known about each other's work at the time, and I'm sure were exposed to Photo-realism from its early shows. Not many degrees of separation in that exalted crowd.
    [I could well be wrong, but I would think the first artists to digitize a photo would have been the first Xerox collagists/artists, as part of the process involves digitization. There were earlier digital artists, but they were not digitizing photographs. Maybe Don is thinking of C. Close.]
  25. It appears to be a suicidal act to not find impressive the imagery and symbolism of the helter-skelter of consumer society suburbia or its shopping mall equivalent.​
    Of course not.
    I tend not to be subject-centric a lot of the time. For me, it's more about how the subject is seen than what subject in particular is being looked at.
    I spend a lot of time in Florida and would never want to live there, but find it visually a fascinating alternative to the big, thriving, cultural city I live in and to the many places in nature I have at my fingertips. The manscaping has a lot of photographic potential. I've only recently started developing a photographic approach to suburbia, it's pristinely-decorated homes and shopping mall equivalents. Not because I think they're such terrific subjects. But because I think I can show them in a photographically compelling and/or transformative or moving way. And not because of any trend per se, though such trends may be influential. But because it is personal to me and something I'm experiencing directly and intimately quite often.
  26. The photorealists addressed the failure of representation in painting -- the painters' generations long inability or unwillingness to render the new colors, light, and materials of the "consumer society" realistically. I find it interesting that it influenced photographers.
  27. "What Luis and I seem to be talking about is our willingness to understand and spend time looking closely at photographers"
    I think that is exactly what I and many others in the forum are also very interested in, but we need to discuss works of art or photography in clear terms. "Poor philistines" is simply a tongue in cheek, or at worst a mildly sarcastic comment, that, among other things, recognizes that "willingness to understand" is often all that is stated. Those who see value in some types of photography could be ready also I think to describe the works and how and why they understand them.
    We are likely all at some times "converted" to new or different reasoning, when our mind and senses are brought to fully appreciate the quality of that reasoning (yes, we can learn and decide individually all by ourselves, but if that was the only mechanism at play there would be little need for formal education, no?).
    I sometimes make strong value statements pro or con something, in part to incite discussion of the real merits of a work. Discussions of the POW are often good in that sense, so why not here also in regard to the approach of the photo photo-realists, which covers also the question of philosophy or psychology of perception? (sorry about the made up term, photo-photo-realists. It is a personal failing - I made up a few scientific terms in support of the studied phenomena of my one-time thesis, was criticised for doing so by a conservative scientific external examiner, but I haven't changed).
    Critical discussion of the pros and cons of works is what might be useful for the both the "poor philistines" (the unbelievers) and others who wish to discuss the works in concrete, or even less concrete but understandable (dare I say meaningful?) terms. For me that is where the pleasure and the value exists, not in the exchange of vague homolies or even vague appreciations.
    Lest anyone think otherwise, I am not considering any of this as personal comments regarding any of us. My interest is only to see constructive discussions about the aforementioned pros and cons of particular art approaches, discussed in meaningful terms.
  28. My interest is only to see constructive discussions about the aforementioned pros and cons of particular art approaches, discussed in meaningful terms.​
    Luis, Don, and John A. have been doing it throughout this thread. You and Julie have ignored that as the thread has progressed, in favor of being dismissive.
    Examples of dismissiveness:
    "You can look at it from ten feet away and get the message." --Julie
    "The underblown in art is often overblown, or is it the question of "the emperor's new clothes"? (Yes, yes, don't tell me, the museum directors and the cognoscenti are among the front line of the waiting crowds)." --Arthur
    Luis brought up American Surfaces not to critique the work itself or to analyze the compositions, not because of whether he found it impressive or not. The thread was about Shore's thoughts and writings, his motivations, not his work per se. Luis brought up American Surfaces relative to Shore's thinking and its place beside other photographers and how it can be viewed relative to even his own other work. He went into quite some detail about that interesting and important aspect of it before you and Julie attempted to dismiss the photos. Re-read Luis's thread of today at 9:08 am and then read Julie's immediate response and later, yours. Draw your own conclusions.
  29. Arthur, a few comments...
    I think that like many out there, you grossly (and simplistically) underestimate the better gallerists and curators.
    Regarding Julie, she is very much entitled to her own view on Shore. She's made it pretty clear without saying much, and unless she wants to expand and go into analysis and criticism, I don't know what else there is to say.
    There are hundreds of new photographers outing themselves and their work every day on the web. What missing are editors, or systems of filtration for distilling, sorting, cataloging the work, let alone giving informed, meaningful criticism. There's no money in it any more, and it is hard, grueling, time consuming and often thankless work. And neither anger nor age is going to do it. Only a very intelligent and effective way to deal with the huge volume of work. We all know what happens when it's left to the web photo-mobs. Ever see the books of Flickr pics? Or note how desperate people here on PN and elsewhere are for feedback and substantive opinions on their work? This condition is going to continue because of a simple fact. People are not photographically/visually fluent. They can't talk about work, theirs or others'. Look in the critique section here.
    So the huge majority of the medium is composed of a population that can recite technobabble like a magpie on meth, but can't read beyond "like-dislike" or "cool-uncool", yet pretends to write. I will always remember a professor in whose class I was a guest lecturer for a few weeks, reviewing student work saying vapid crap like "...there's something interesting happening here..." followed by nothing.
    My take on Burtinsky has nothing whatsoever to do with his temporal coordinates in relation to Eggleston or Shore. Or the Emperor's vetements. The trick with the latter is to know about la mode. I won't go into detail here, but find B's ideas & topics good, but the execution more clever than brilliant; the consistent POV somewhat cliche'd, with regard to the culture of the times; too distant/cold to be effective emotionally; and a kind of microscope on lesser organisms passing for pseudo-dcumentarian work. Sometime I'll tell you how I really feel.
    Great photographers almost always (true in Shore and Eggleston's cases) greeted by horrid reviews. They are so far ahead of conventional consciousness that it takes literally years (sometimes decades) for the rest of the world to catch up, although there are always a few curators, critics, editors, etc, who see them for the emissaries from the future they are.
    I think you are robbing these photographers by referring to them as descendants of Photo-Realism. There are similarities, but the temporal aspects make them contemporaries, not derivative.Or if you're using the term as a made-up thing, it's too confusing. Colorists, and Photo-Luminists are two terms I've heard used for these guys, though Shore is more of a New Topographer gone astray than anything else. There are many others I would throw in here, like J. Meyerowitz's non-street work, Hugher Foote, Bill Christenberry, Bill Greiner, Mitch Epstein, and too many others established and young, pro and non-pro excellent photographers to list here.
    There are no Philistines in my opinion. Those who don't get it, don't. It's not up to anyone to "convert" them, let alone for free. They get to see what they've learned to see like the rest of us, and live with the consequences. Great photographs don't need instruction manuals or proselytizers. What is needed is for the visual illiterates to want to partake of this great banquet of life, educate themselves(yes, it's all on the web and the public library) and/or ask for help and bootstrap up. Nor do they need convincing. Their viewpoint is 100% valid and seldom endemic. I respect them, and would hope they would respect those who disagree with them as well.
  30. Thanks, Luis. Something I've really come to appreciate about your participation here is your calling my attention to photographs and photographers, some who are new to me, and some to whom you've provided a context I hadn't placed familiar names into before. Though you've certainly analyzed photos and bodies of work, I don't rely on you for this, as your exposing me to work, often with juxtapositions to and influences by other related photographers, allows me to discover them or go back to them in order to do my own re-exploration of them.
    As I said of Shore's work, it's less about what it may mean to others and more about what I might learn from looking at his use of color and light as it might spark something in or for my own work. Whether I like it or am impressed by it and why is in many ways secondary.
    I wouldn't explore suburbia out of some sort of distanced or academic notion that the subject of suburbia is somehow important to the world. I'd explore it because it was in front of me and because I'm becoming intimate with it as my trips to my dad in Florida have become more frequent, more intense, and of longer duration. It's not through aesthetic eyes or analytical tendencies that I would photograph suburbia. It's personal, experiential. It wouldn't be to try to convince anyone of anything. It would be to express myself, and to show what I'm seeing.
    I like hearing your analyses and critiques of famous and not-so-famous photographers and I like hearing others. I often write about photographers not to convince anyone that I like them, or that they should, and often not even because I like them. I do it to articulate things, which helps me focus my thoughts and see better. If someone gets something out of that articulation, great. They shouldn't expect it of me nor I of them. Pointing me in a direction is just as valid as holding my hand and taking me there.
  31. Luis, thank you very much for your very thoughtful reply to my comments/debating challenges. I did read your 9:08 comments before, but had read briefly only that part of the Shore and Eggleston statements that were visible in the links. I discovered only later that the comments went on and were considerably more informative, by clicking on the links of your two links.
    I had not previously seen many of the images in your references. Some of Shore's images I can readily sympathize with, they seem quite revealing (analytically invasive of their subjects if I can use that term) of the places he has decided to compose/interpret. At least they show some of the unfamiliar of the generically familiar. They strike me as more than clever compositions of form and light, which by themselves would be more academic in value. I don't like them all (perhaps my problem was initially in seeing some of the scenes I am less convinced about - e.g., the so-called $8500 duo that I think John had mentioned earlier). Of course mine are but preliminary viewing impressions and these things take time (and should be complemented by other knowledge based input as you mention. As a researcher by trade, that is not something that scares me).
    You may be right-on about Burtynsky having a rather colder and more detached approach. He photographs what is quite unknown to many of us (although perhaps vaguely imagined at some time by us, in view of our association of his subject matter with other aspects we have gleaned from our industrialised world) which is one thing that draws me to some of his work. One example you probably have seen: that impressive plunging image into the rectangular mechanical complex of the Vermont white marble quarry and its ant-like cutting machines and human presence, or their traces (ladders, left tools). I was inspired by his insights and tried some photos in part of that quarry in the fall of 2010. I got nothing of what he achieved (as expected), although quality of the results apart I was trying my own thing/approach with this fascinating subject matter. Shore and Eggleston are different in the sense that they are photographing subjects that we are nominally familiar with and showing them to us in a different and reflective manner.
    Sometimes we have to wade through all the historical notes on the photographer, the "Bob's your father" relationship of the photographer to his colleagues, and other chatty interview stuff that may sound great but deliver little, to occasionally get an appreciation of his approach, or in some cases, happily, read analytical critiques by others. Anyway, thanks for putting some valuable meat into the analysis of his work. I will welcome any other insights you have about these two photographers, when you wish to give them.
  32. Sorry, small error, my second line should read "...Shore statements..." and not "....Shore and Eggleton statements..."
  33. Sorry, I don't "get" him. His pictures are not aesthetically exciting nor do I see much of a story line. They look like snapshots while he was traveling around through life. Not very compelling. Sometimes I think people like him must go home, shut the door and laugh in amazement at their notoriety. But what do I know?
  34. What I don't understand, Alan, is why you would question Shore's motivations or sincerity just because you don't like or get him.
  35. Arthur and Fred, thank you for your kind words.
    One thing about Burtinsky that whispers to me is that he manages to get permission to shoot all these sensitive corporate places that almost never let other people in. That may explain his aesthetic, at least in part. Or the other way around, the aesthetic may explain his success with access. The somewhat sterile thing, distance and apparent emphasis on formal elements might be what keeps getting him access. I can't imagine a conventional, close-range, gritty documentarian being able to gain access to many of the places EB does for any length of time.
    Alan, there are two books we're talking about. The second one, Uncommon Places, was released first. Afterwards, the first set of pictures (and book #2) was released: American Surfaces. I think you're referring to that one. He photographed the things and people he came came across, but not in "travels through life", but specific cross-country road trips, much along the lines of Walker Evans, The Beats, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, William Eggleston and many others. He photographed the personal landscape in the same way someone else would photograph the Grand Canyon, except the significance here has to do with many things, including journey, contact, proximity and entanglement. Shore is unusual (but hardly unique) in the sense that he is a conceptual landscape and portrait photographer.
  36. Luis G's comment People are not photographically/visually fluent gets to the heart of my original question. Without "artspeak", can the context of history, philosophy, and physiology of seeing help inform us about what Shore and others feel they have achieved - even if the photographer can't verbalize it?
    In short, if the Emperor does have clothes, what tools can we best use to describe them?
  37. In short, if the Emperor does have clothes, what tools can we best use to describe them?​
    For myself, non-judgmental description is often a way to go, which your question itself suggests. Instead of worrying about whether the Emperor has clothes or not (I actually prefer my Emperors naked), a good description of what I'm seeing will often go a long way in helping my visually fluency. Articulation of what I see, not necessarily with either interpretation or with judgment of how good it is, helps me focus, find things, uncover my own biases, and open me to the photographer's vision while fending off my own sometimes very restrictive visual expectations or desires.
    History can be particularly visual. I can relate Shore's work to the work of others, and to its historical context. That increases my visual fluency, the relationships through decades and eras of work, and provides a context which is sometimes necessary to give something a kind of meaning.
  38. "Without "artspeak", can the context of history, philosophy, and physiology of seeing help inform us about what Shore and others feel they have achieved - even if the photographer can't verbalize it?"

    I may not understand, but if the photographer can't verbalize it, how should I know what they feel they have achieved?

    Apparently, on this forum commenters can't verbalize their criticisms of Shore (see Alan, above). Not just this discussion, but others in the past. This is even moreso the case when the subject is Eggleston. Both photographers can be critiqued, and possibibly severely, but I don't know what the drive-by commenters mean.
  39. He photographed the personal landscape in the same way someone else would photograph the Grand Canyon, except the significance here has to do with many things, including journey, contact, proximity and entanglement. Shore is unusual (but hardly unique) in the sense that he is a conceptual landscape and portrait photographer.​
    Thanks Luis for the references to his books. I think the difference between photos of a personal landscape vs. the Grand Canyon is that the latter stirs ones soul, producing a sense of awe. Try as I might, I don't get that from a picture of an ordinary house on a dusty Texas street. Maybe it's meaningful to the shooter because he was there and important things happened to him, but it doesn't do much for me. I can only look at the picture. Maybe the pictures are more expressive in real life rather than on a little computer screen. He did shoot with an 8x10. And I don't question his sincerity, Fred. I just wonder if he's like the guy who puts down two bucks in the local bodega and winds up winning a $30 million lottery. He can't figure out why he got so lucky.
  40. Jon Wilbrecht, I think Shore's article *does* verbalize what he's after (my issue of Aperture finally showed up). I think he just doesn't happen to find metaphors that will work for you. I'll try (probably mine won't work either, but it's worth a try).
    If you are expecting to hear music, you won't hear ambient/background/street sounds. Think of being in/at a movie; the soundtrack is more or less "invisible." You "hear" only the structured sounds -- any music, singing, speech; you don't hear all the rest. But if the soundtrack is removed -- the movie goes silent -- then you (should) realize what an immense role it is playing in your experience of the movie.
    Crudely, if Shore's first picture was "music" [structured, built] then his second is the soundtrack [immersive, sensual] of the street.
    How can he get a viewer to stop straining to hear "music" and ... listen/hear something/anything else?
    I don't think it's so much about being photographically/visually fluent as it is about Shore being able to figure out what some viewer (you; who?) *think* you should be seeing -- and then finding the best point of leverage to shift you out of that perspective. (It's not "artspeak," it's engineering!)
  41. "Shore writes about trying to remove conscious or unconscious pictorial models from his photographs."

    Ok. I understand that.

    "He even argues that only painters/sketchers can compose; photographers structure an image."

    Meaning the pictorial models discussed are from painting...I think.

    "To consciously use perspective is adding "art sauce"."

    To 'consciously' -- I'd say 'deliberately' -- use anything is adding art sauce.

    "You have to photograph what the scene speaks to you."

    Which means what? Is that Shore? After showing conscious/unconscious the door, he lets it in through the side entrance?

    He should have kept the Rollei.
  42. Julie, thanks for your helpful response.

    With my limited knowledge of theories of comprehending visual information, I have the impression that comprehension is
    based on modeling what we see. If there is no model, we interpret the scene as chaotic or repress it. So....... how do we
    describe the subliminal model Shore wants to use?
  43. Jon, art is the model and art is an exploration of or into the chaotic. The chaotic is what constantly attracts the most adventurous artists (such as Shore) but even the most timid of us is, if art is what we're after, exploring (discovering then modeling) some fragment of chaos. "Drawing a distinction" as George Spencer-Brown famously put it.
    So to answer your question, "So....... how do we describe the subliminal model Shore wants to use?" I have to answer, we make art. Yes we're very circular this evening, but I'm enjoying your wonderfully, deliciously involuted post even though it was quite probably so purely by accident (or perhaps it was subliminal).
    [Disclaimer for the opinion police: all of the above is my own personal opinion (as if it could be anything else).]
  44. [Disclaimer for the opinion police: all of the above is my own personal opinion (as if it could be anything else).]​
    Why the disclaimer? Stating something as "an opinion" is not a defense against challenge. When we put them out in public, we can't protect our ideas from critique just by putting an IMO in front of them. Just like we can't protect our publicly-viewed photos from critique by claiming that art is all subjective and we're only trying to please ourselves.
  45. "To consciously use perspective is adding "art sauce"."
    To 'consciously' -- I'd say 'deliberately' -- use anything is adding art sauce.
    I think most use of perspective is subconscious, and adds "art sauce".
  46. Julie,
    Involuted, convoluted, or whatever - When I look at Shore's preferred picture, all I see is an uninteresting repeat of Duchamp's urinal.
  47. Don, your last analysis really helps. It does seem that Shore is at risk of contradicting himself, letting "art sauce" in through the side door, as you say.
    Jon, interesting comparison of Shore to Duchamp.
    A quote from each might suggest a difference.
    Shore: "I discovered that this camera was the technical means in photography of communicating what the world looks like in a state of heightened awareness. And it's that awareness of really looking at the everyday world with clear and focused attention that I'm interested in."
    Duchamp: "My idea was to choose an object that wouldn't attract me, either by its beauty or by its ugliness. To find a point of indifference in my looking at it, you see."
    It seems Shore's focused attention is Duchamp's indifference.
    I think I can see that difference as I think about their bodies of work. Certainly Duchamp's was a moving away from, a rejection, a nihilism of sorts. Shore's body of work doesn't seem similar in these regards. He seems to find and want to bond, though without fanfare.
  48. Jon said, " When I look at Shore's preferred picture, all I see is an uninteresting repeat of Duchamp's urinal."
    LOL! The nerve of those guys! Just when you have this chaos thing under control -- all tidied up and alphebetized and no stripes with plaid, and you step out to enjoy your law-and-ordered neighborhood, some kid whispers that you're not wearing any clothes. Here's a thought: chaos is BIG and we -- via science or art or just being here with an open mind (and an open, astonished mouth) only have our heads around a tiny fraction of it. Please don't kill the messenger(s) for making this hard(er) to ignore.
  49. "...chaos thing under control" ?
    Good quotes, Fred.
    Which is Shore's preferred picture?
    When looking at all those streets and intersections in Uncommon Places, why are they there? There's nowhere near that many in American Surfaces. What happened between those two series? Did the 8x10 Deardorff gravitate towards the street?
  50. Artists often make chaos.
    "Destruction is also creation." --Duchamp
  51. Why do you equate chaos with destruction?
  52. Why do you equate chaos with destruction?​
    I don't. I associated them in this instance.
    There can be chaotic aspects to destruction. My point was that chaos is not only found by artists. I was adding to your statement that "art is an exploration of or into the chaotic." It can also be the creation of chaos. I think Duchamp's destructivism (we can question another time how successful it was) did create some chaos. But, no, it's not the same thing as chaos.
  53. Art can be " an exploration of or into the chaotic.", "...the creation of chaos.", & the acknowledgement or denial of chaos as well. Though learning to dance to its beat is an accomplishment in itself. I think Shore got tightly wound up about imposing order with the 8x10.
  54. Fred, your Shore and Duchamp quotes are very helpful. Since Shore picks the time of day and vantage point for his heightened awareness, there is a limit to his chaos.
    I happen to love Paul Strand's work. He certainly had heightened awareness in his large format "straight" photography, but was able to convey (for me) an empathy between the photograph and viewer.
  55. "denial of chaos as well . . . imposing order"​
    Good point. Look at Bach, Mondrian, Blossfeldt's flowers.
    Order and chaos are two sides of the same coin and they reciprocate. The creation of order out of chaos can be seen as a new kind of chaos. The creation of a kind of chaos can suggest a re-ordering.
  56. Luis: "When looking at all those streets and intersections in Uncommon Places, why are they there? There's nowhere near that many in American Surfaces. What happened between those two series? Did the 8x10 Deardorff gravitate towards the street?"

    Shore on American Surfaces:

    “I had a structural question in mind: What does natural look like? How can I take a picture that contains less of the artifice of visual convention?”

    That is a good question (re "natural") because I don't think artists (painting, photography) often have asked it or attempted it. I think his perspective ("structural") led him to 8x10, led him to go to the prom handcuffed to a corpse (iow, that Victorian relic Art) for Uncommon Places. The choice might have been sabotage.
  57. Considering the above, I should say I admire Shore's photos, including Uncommon Places. A lot of what I understand about color in photos comes from looking a his work.
  58. I do not think there is a "natural". Approaching the conventions and signifiers is something I am and have been concerned with. There's been enough research to show that Inuit Eskimos see differently from Ituri Pygmies, etc. What we can see begins to congeal in part at the moment of conception & DNA swap, then as we grow depending on a staggering number of variables.
    Don E. - "The choice might have been sabotage"
    I like that, Don!
    LG - "When looking at all those streets and intersections in Uncommon Places, why are they there? There's nowhere near that many in American Surfaces. What happened between those two series? Did the 8x10 Deardorff gravitate towards the street?"
    No. In spite of all the theory, that part of what we see in Shore's work is the result of a significant nexus between two prominent photographic powerhouses of the day. Shore had visited the Dusseldorf school, met Bernd & Hilla Becher and befriended them. The couple was impressed enough to purchase some prints of Shore's work (from American Surfaces) from his European rep. Hilla had a grown son that at the time lived in NYC (and maybe still does). She would fly across the Atlantic to visit with him, and sometimes she would visit Shore. On one of those trips, before Shore embarked on his first Uncommon Places trip, he met with Hilla, who suggested the idea of doing a typology of the American Main Street.
    Shore followed her advice, which is why there are so many street and intersection views in Uncommon Ground woven in between the sequel to the introspective work from American Surfaces. One can see the Becher influence in many, down to a somewhat consistent light, although Shore was not as rigid as the Bechers about keeping the light a constant. It was a kind of light that was not conventional at the time. This crossover from the August Sander ---> Becher ---> Shore is fascinating. And there has been talk that when the Bechers showed Shore's prints in their classes, it inspired some of their star students (at the time Gursky, Struth, Ruff and Hofer) more toward working in color. The influence worked both ways.
  59. Luis: "I do not think there is a "natural". Approaching the conventions and signifiers is something I am and have been concerned with. There's been enough research to show that Inuit Eskimos see differently from Ituri Pygmies, etc. What we can see begins to congeal in part at the moment of conception & DNA swap, then as we grow depending on a staggering number of variables."

    Shore juxtaposed "natural" with "the artifice of visual convention", and I took that to mean conventional artistic representation in photography and painting.

    I do not think there is anything biological about the way various peoples see. It is cultural. My next door neighbors are two Hindu brothers. They're from Omaha and as cornfed looking young guys as the stereotypical Husker except they aren't blond or blue-eyed. Built like linebackers. All 7 billion of us are closely related. We should expect the end of cultural diversity as it has been known, soon, given the globalization of culture.

    I find the distaste expressed here -- not only in this discussion, but just about anywhere anytime here -- of Eggleston and Shore to be solidly inline with conventional art critics in 1870. They are about the subjects. Landscape, romantically, should be awesome, majestic, and spiritual, and not banal and ordinary things like gas stations which are subjects not even fit for the lowest genre. They are not the subjects of high or elevated Art. Mere snapshots, tourist trivia. At best, one might tsk tsk Shore for wasting his talent on such trash.
  60. Don - "I do not think there is anything biological about the way various peoples see."
    I don't either. I do think there's biology involved in the way individuals see, which is what I was referring to.
  61. Last week I was able to see the two Shore street photographs at the San Francisco MOMA. On the wall, the "structured" photo definitely had a mechanical feel. Shore's "preferred" photo had energy.
    I now think how we perceive a photograph has a great deal to do with the media in which it is presented. On the wall, the photograph is independent and has a presence. Surrounded by type in a magazine or book, the photo must struggle to disengage from the page. Maybe a photo with a familiar structure has an easier time rising from the page.
    On a separate note, SFMOMA's Francesca Woodman exhibition consists of small, extremely beautiful prints. They reminded me of B&W egg tempera paintings. In contrast, the exhibition book consists of oversize, muddy, low dynamic range pictures. Looking at the book, you probably would not be inclined to go see the prints.

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