American Surfaces by Stephen Shore | Book Review
May 16, 2020
Considered one of the most influential living photographers, Stephen Shore is often heralded as a pioneer of colour photography.
In 1972, he first exhibited a series of 174 postcard-sized photographs which he shot on a road trip across America in the early 1970s, titled American Surfaces.
The work, which was unmounted and unframed, confounded the critics who saw it installed in New York City’s LIGHT Gallery. They were a stark contrast to the usual black & white archival prints that were generally presented as art photography at the time. Unfavourable reviews followed, but despite that, the entire collection was bought by curator Weston Naef and donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Since then, American Surfaces has been exhibited and discussed many times across Europe and the US. It is considered by some to be a benchmark of documenting our fast-living, consumer-oriented world, which continues to influence photographers today.
In this latest edition, published nearly 50 years after the 1972 show, dozens of previously unseen images have also been included. There’s also a newly commissioned essay by prominent critic, curator and photographer Teju Cole, who provides a fresh perspective on this body of work.
Ahead of its time
It is of course very fair to say that the world is a different place than it was in 1972. At a time when Instagram and other forms of social media are the predominant method for sharing snapshots of everyday life (indeed Stephen Shore uses it himself), it’s an interesting time to revisit work which in many ways was ahead of its time.
The imagery in this book certainly won’t be to the tastes of all of our readers, but if you’re interested in the documentary and street genre – and specifically its colour roots – it’s certainly a worthy one to add to your collection.
American Surfaces by Stephen Shore
£49.95, 256 pages, ISBN: 9781838660628, Phaidon, Hardback ★★★★