Many of Shore’s photos fall into one of three categories, each with their own unique style and evocative emotion. These are those categories that I wish to emulate:
While Shore’s portraits seem ordinary at first glance, each contains a looming eeriness. His subjects are rarely smiling or posing. They don’t look to be expecting the photo, rather they’re caught mid-conversation, as if instead of catching the pose and smile, Shore captures the moments before and after – twisting the concept of the portrait by mere milliseconds, and therefore revealing its hidden truths. In an interview, he explains that facial expressions change with every instant, each one displaying a different side of human character. He continues, “I know that I can take a picture now, or a second later, a half second earlier, and have a different meaning.” 5 While it may seem that this spontaneity would depict a false characterization of subject, Shore offers an anecdote proving otherwise:
A wonderful photographer named Tod Papageorge, who is a good friend of mine, photographed my wedding. It was in California and he came out and photographed people that he had never met before that day. And in his pictures every single one of these people is shown in their essence. So on the one hand we know there is something deeply fictive about a portrait and yet on the other there’s this result where I see Tod’s penetrating insight in understanding people.1
Shore attempts to paint an ethnographic landscape of the United States through his choice of subject. His subjects range from all walks of life, various races, and socioeconomic standings. He “photographed different categories of things repeatedly, including everyone I met.”1 This range of subjects created a living document, depicting the vast cultural differences across the nation. Names were of no consequence, the people in his photos remain anonymous, as they represent examples of America’s vibrant societal landscape. Shore explains this choice of anonymity:
I never identified the people, but it’s a mixture of very close friends and someone I would run into in a bus depot in Oklahoma City, or a gas-station attendant. A whole range of people, whether or not identified.1
In my photography, I plan to take portraits similar to Shore – I will catch my subjects off guard, or ask them to pose and take the photo as they’re getting ready. Just as Shore does, I’ll stand from a traditional angle, and nothing about my form or angle will change, rather just the pose of the subject will distort the photo.
American Surfaces is lined with disturbingly odd photo pairings. Many of these consist of a dirty toilet on the bottom and a painting of a landscape on top. The paintings are tacky and cliché, they are not works of fine art, rather just excuses to fill the walls of a lower class home.
Other pairings question the moral code under which humanity follows. As depicted below, the comparison of a man’s bloody legs to meat sweating in a pan appears an odd duo, however the more unnerving aspect about this is their similarities. Both are just blood-soaked flesh — simple meat void of consciousness. However through this pairing, Shore is suggesting that at the most fundamental level, humanity is nothing more than meat frying in a pan, rather it is our actions and thoughts that dictate our level of consciousness, our elevation above meat. The bloody-leg photo contains nothing more than a pair of legs, no clues are given to the head that may exist above those abandoned appendages.
Click photos to enlarge
I plan to emulate these odd pairings by pairing the beautiful with grotesque — by attempting to expose the similarities that exist between the human and the inanimate. My pairings may consist of toilets, trashes, or soiled rooms ordained with tacky landscapes, people, and cheap decorations.
Traveling through the United States, Shore stopped at countless roadside diners and dingy restaurants. Many of his photographs document the meals he ate while on the road. In the current age of Instagram filtered meals and the rise of carefully organized food photography, Shore’s food photos are strikingly different. They do not attempt to make the food look appealing or appetizing, rather the opposite; Shore’s meals look disgusting and disorderly.
Shore achieves this feeling by taking his food photos from an aerial view perpendicular to the table. He mashes up the food and moves it around on the plate while keeping each different item in its own corner. This method makes the food look like it was prepared in that disorderly, disgusting fashion. For example, the plate to the left, is not at all appetizing due to Shore’s manipulations. The egg yolk has been broken and sits in a soup of white and yellow. The bacon is crinkled and strewn around in its corner and the bagel is bare and empty, barely filling its space.
Coming from a culinary background, I have studied traditional food photography: artistically arranging tiny portions of delectable-looking food in a clean light box. These new photos will be different. I will take aerial shots of some of my meals, moving and mashing my food, while maintaining a clean façade.
Below is a video interview with Stephen Shore, shot in 2010