An Eerily Mundane Perspective: A Glimpse into Stephen Shore’s Visual Journey
While Stephen Shore’s photos may seem mundane and ordinary, they are eerily unnerving in their monotony. His subjects are not unique or extraordinary, rather his composition of them distorts them ever slightly enough to create an unnerving perspective. Born to Manhattan Jewish parents in the mid-twentieth century, Shore felt as though he was an outsider, alienated by the white, Christian culture of the era. This alienation is evident through his photographs; he remains anonymous as he captures spontaneous, yet ordinary human moments. His photos create an atmosphere of isolation; allowing his viewers to experience his isolation and detachment from the society he inhabits.
Shore grew up through the creation of modern American society — the rapid amalgamation of various cultural identities. He witnessed the rise of social phenomena, rapidly changing decades each with their own character and flair, and documented these with his 35mm lens. Shore explains his abstractly ethnographic motives behind photographing portraits of unknown passerbys around the United States:
I was thinking about not just their expressions but what their clothes were and what their backgrounds were, information about their heritage. It fit into a kind of cultural nexus. I think that that work in particular integrated the portrait maybe more successfully than at any other time for me.1
Shore received his first taste of photography on his sixth birthday — a darkroom set sent by an ambitious uncle. His career began at age fourteen when Museum of Modern Art photography curator Edward Steichen purchased three pieces of Shore’s work. At age seventeen, Shore met Andy Warhol and frequented Warhol’s studio, The Factory, photographing Warhol and his extravagant guests.
Much of Shore’s subjects are ordinary – an over-easy diner egg, a man standing against a white wall, a dog sleeping on the floor – however that very ordinariness creates the photo’s intrigue: a looming eeriness. Taken from obscure angles, these photos appeared to be distorted and cropped, almost as though they were taken from the still frames of a horror movie. Their subjects and composition seem to emulate those of the many Polaroids lining the pages of family photo books. Through his use of the distorted ordinary, Shore suggests a vision of the world in which a further look at the mundane reveals the silent, minute intricacies of the human condition.