Stephen Shore @303

JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 images on display in the main gallery and back room. In the front gallery, 15 modern prints from 1965-1967 negatives from The Velvet Years are on view. All are gelatin silver prints, 13×19 or reverse, in editions of 8, framed in black and matted. In the rear gallery, 2 panoramic black and white images of New York City streets are shown. These huge gelatin silver prints are 37×94, in editions of 4, and were made between 2000 and 2002. They are framed in black with no mat. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The Stephen Shore we are most familiar with as collectors is the one who took startling color pictures in 1970s America, who was one of the genuine pioneers in the use of color in photography. His books Uncommon Places and American Surfaces are now classics, well worn and dog-eared in our library.

The Stephen Shore on view at the current 303 Gallery show seems wholly unrelated to the Stephen Shore we know. Part of the show centers on work Shore did while hanging out at Andy Warhol’s Factory during the mid-1960s, long before his forays into color. These are black and white snapshot-like images of Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed, and others, in the wide open warehouse space/art studio, not unlike Warhol’s own images of this same glamorous scene. While Warhol’s ideas about found imagery and repetition may have influenced Shore’s later interest in vernacular postcards and banal subjects, these isn’t any evidence of these concepts in his documentary pictures of the Factory.

At the other end of the spectrum, but in many ways of a related approach, come some new works from Shore in the back room. These follow long after his color heyday, and have returned to action oriented black and white images of people on the streets (in contrast to his color work which was largely unpopulated). These works reminded me a little of Harry Callahan’s Chicago city streets of the 1950s, but updated with 21st century styles and enlarged to mural size.

At some level, both of these subjects have become photographic cliches, so it’s hard to find something new in either of them that stands out as a truly different vision of these topics. What I found most of interest in this exhibit was not so much the details of the work on display, but the reminder that as collectors, it is easy for us to pigeon-hole a photographer based on his/her most well known or recognizable work, when in fact, nearly all photographers have many bodies of work that they pursue (some artistic, others more commercial) over their long careers. Seeing the less well known work may not induce us to want to add it to our collection, but it certainly forces us to expand our view of the overall measure of the artist and his/her approach, hopefully teasing out connections and evolutions along the way that help provide a broader view of the entirety of the photographer’s art, including those works we think we already understand.

Collector’s POV: The recent prints from The Velvet Years series are priced at $10000 each; the large cityscapes in the back are priced at $30000 each. Shore’s color work (vintage and later prints) is readily available at auction, generally ranging in price between $2000 and $20000. Nearly all of Shore’s prints are smaller than 16×20 (there have been a few larger prints made more recently), with many as small as 8×10. Some of Shore’s prints have suffered from color fading, and so those prints that have been locked away in cold storage since the 1970s tend to fare best at auction. For our particular collection, we continue to search for just the right image by Shore to fit into our city genre, to sit alongside 1960s/1970s Lee Friedlander et al.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Interviews: Conscientious (here), Darius Himes (here), Seesaw magazine (here)
  • Artist statement from Uncommon Places (here)
  • NY Times review, 2007 (here)
  • Video (here)
  • iPhoto books in FOAM (here)

Stephen Shore
Through July 18th

303 Gallery
525 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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