Stephen Shore on photography's visceral connection

Watch our great video from the photographer's ICP talk in New York last week
Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore


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There are few photographers as well versed in the theory and history of the medium than Stephen Shore. The New York photographer and Phaidon author, whose work was first added to the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection when he was just fourteen, has taught, written about and continued to practice in the medium, significantly extending his skills with each project.

Last week, Shore spoke with  Jeff Rosenheim, Curator of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in front of a capacity crowd at Manhattan's International Center for Photography. The ICP event was staged in part to introduce his new book, From Galilee to the Negev.

 

A photograph in From Galilee to the Negev by Stephen Shore

A photograph in From Galilee to the Negev by Stephen Shore

The title draws together Shore's extended project, shooting in both the Palestinian and Jewish communities in Israel and the West Bank. During the talk and subsequent interview, conducted exclusively for Phaidon.com, Shore admits that the subject matter was much more charged than the quotidian US landscapes he has shot in the past. 

“It was a challenge for me to make photographs that had meaning as photographs,” he explained, “that did not depend on the political charge of the situation. Life there includes the conflict but is far more than the conflict and that's one of the things I wanted to reflect in the book.

 

Stephen Shore signing books after the talk last week

Stephen Shore signing books after the talk last week

In this video (see below), Shore describes how he applied his technique of observing the ordinary, in a place where some aspect of conflict imbues almost every area of everyday life. Whether shooting a deserted, sixth century monastery, or a bustling road junction, the Holy Land's present-day difficulties added a subtext to this series of photographs.

 

A photograph in From Galilee to the Negev by Stephen Shore

A photograph in From Galilee to the Negev by Stephen Shore

To make a point, Shore alights on a shot he took of a ladies hat-store window. He says that, had he seen the picture a few years ago, he would have classed it as a simple work of nostalgia. “The hats are kinda dowdy, maybe 1940s looking,” he explains. Yet he goes on: “living in Jerusalem, I knew that these hats were worn by ultra-orthadox women, and the picture had a subtext that wasn't immediately clear.”

Indeed, the book serves as a useful jumping-off point for discussing Shore's wider thoughts on the uses photography. When asked he admits that “photographers understand only too well the limitations of the medium."

 

A photograph in From Galilee to the Negev by Stephen Shore

A photograph in From Galilee to the Negev by Stephen Shore

"It [photography] doesn't explain things as you can with words, it just describes.” Shore expands on these descriptive powers. "I think some people just feel like there are things in the world that mean something to them visually, that there's a resonance that can't be put into words, or they can't put into words but still recognise this important, visceral connection.”

 

Perhaps we should bear this in mind when leafing through the images in Shore's new book which, while lacking any didactic message, reveal something about the region no text could convey. Watch the full talk above. For more on Shore's thoughts and advice on how anyone can enjoy photography, consider his book, The Nature of Photographs; and to see his pictures from Israel and the West Bank in full pick up a copy of From Galilee to the Negev, here.


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