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Author Topic: Stephen Shore  (Read 24082 times)
wolfnowl
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« on: April 06, 2009, 01:58:40 AM »
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There's an interesting video on (large format) photographer Stephen Shore, here.

Mike.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2009, 06:08:32 AM »
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Quote from: wolfnowl
There's an interesting video on (large format) photographer Stephen Shore, here.

Mike.

Interesting stuff. I'm really of two minds regarding Stephen Shore and his work. He's clearly a very smart, articulate fellow who has built a 'big name' career in the art world, and he's obviously given a lot of thought to photography as art form. On the other hand, his actual photographic art really grates on my own æsthetic sensibilities. His work celebrates the shabby, the prosaic, the ordinary. It's aggressively 'anti-pictorial'. I find myself returning periodically to the lucid essay by Katharine Thayer in Lenswork #53, which celebrates instead the traditional æsthetic virtues of pictorial beauty rather than hipster irony.

I've read Shore's book The Nature of Photographs; it's quite clever, but to me is clearly an imposition of contrived 'structure' on photographs after the fact, rather than any organic æsthetic theory.
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2009, 11:31:55 AM »
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Hi Geoff: I didn't add any opinion, just the link, because I didn't want to bias people's thoughts before they watched the video... but FWIW, I agree with you.  Still, everyone gets to decide their own ideas of what art represents, so if he's happy doing what he's doing, then good for him!  That's why I put this under 'Is it Art' instead of 'The Coffee Corner'.

Mike.
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« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2009, 07:04:41 PM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
Interesting stuff. I'm really of two minds regarding Stephen Shore and his work. He's clearly a very smart, articulate fellow who has built a 'big name' career in the art world, and he's obviously given a lot of thought to photography as art form. On the other hand, his actual photographic art really grates on my own æsthetic sensibilities. His work celebrates the shabby, the prosaic, the ordinary. It's aggressively 'anti-pictorial'. I find myself returning periodically to the lucid essay by Katharine Thayer in Lenswork #53, which celebrates instead the traditional æsthetic virtues of pictorial beauty rather than hipster irony.

I've read Shore's book The Nature of Photographs; it's quite clever, but to me is clearly an imposition of contrived 'structure' on photographs after the fact, rather than any organic æsthetic theory.

I agree. But what grates on my aesthetic sensibilities most is the amount of horse hockey "artists" like Stephen Shore can come up with when they talk about their art. I see it every time I walk into a museum and read the artists' statements attached to the "art." It really doesn't improve when it's put into multi-media form.
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tonysmith
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« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2009, 09:08:45 AM »
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Stephen Shore has been the biggest influence on my photography and I admire his work enormously. I want my photography to focus on the world in which I live daily, not on exotic places far from my ordinary life. I have done “by the book” landscapes in Arizona, New Mexico and Canada but have afterwards been bored by my own images and they never end up framed. My favourites are those that I feel illuminate the places around me.

What Shore does, IMHO, is to take photographs of the ordinary and somehow make them seem extraordinary. I wish I understood how he can make a motel car park seem so beautiful and full of significance. Then I might be able to do it myself.  It is a different aesthetic to be sure, but I have no doubt that it is art at a very high level.

In general, I have the same irritation that has been expressed here with pompous “artists” who take themselves too seriously, but I don’t see Shore as one of these. I thought he was quite humble in the video.
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ChrisS
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« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2009, 11:27:25 AM »
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Quote from: tonysmith
Stephen Shore has been the biggest influence on my photography and I admire his work enormously. I want my photography to focus on the world in which I live daily, not on exotic places far from my ordinary life. I have done “by the book” landscapes in Arizona, New Mexico and Canada but have afterwards been bored by my own images and they never end up framed. My favourites are those that I feel illuminate the places around me.

What Shore does, IMHO, is to take photographs of the ordinary and somehow make them seem extraordinary. I wish I understood how he can make a motel car park seem so beautiful and full of significance. Then I might be able to do it myself.  It is a different aesthetic to be sure, but I have no doubt that it is art at a very high level.

In general, I have the same irritation that has been expressed here with pompous “artists” who take themselves too seriously, but I don’t see Shore as one of these. I thought he was quite humble in the video.

I agree (with the last two paragraphs - can't comment on the first!).
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2009, 12:13:12 PM »
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Quote from: tonysmith
What Shore does, IMHO, is to take photographs of the ordinary and somehow make them seem extraordinary. I wish I understood how he can make a motel car park seem so beautiful and full of significance. Then I might be able to do it myself.  It is a different aesthetic to be sure, but I have no doubt that it is art at a very high level.

It's in the very nature of large format (8x10) photographs to add a sense of hyper-realism and exceptionalism to the most ordinary subjects. Jeff Brouws is another example; Approaching Nowhere is his most recent book, and I initially found the images quite striking. Over time, however, their appeal has faded. Now I can see past the graphic effect of the meticulous large format capture to the fundamentally drab and uninspiring image. Roger Hicks has written that large format capture sometimes bestows upon the subject an entirely unearned importance or attention. I think that's the case here.

I don't think this means that everyone should go to Yosemite or Mesa Arch and shoot from the tripod holes of Ansel Adams or David Muench; but everyone lives near something beautiful; I just don't include abandoned mall parking lots or dreary motel rooms in that category.

Just my thoughts, of course. YMMV. That's the great thing about art.
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John Camp
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« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2009, 12:35:55 PM »
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The very best photographs capture the magic of a given scene. Think of Ansel Adams "Moonrise" or Paul Caponigro's "Running White Deer," or other well-known photos. In the very best photos, technique (and "print quality") becomes less important -- for example, Robert Capa's blurred and nearly destroyed photos of the D-Day landings.

But, exquisite technique can give a drab subject the gloss of "art," though it's a gloss that tends to go away. You'll always want to take something from the subject beyond technique. It's kind of like the "plein aire" painters working today. They are applying a technique (impressionism) without doing what the impressionists were doing, which was an investigation of the psychological and physical qualities of light. So you see a lot of faked up or over-dramatized colors and loose splashes of paint which completely miss the struggle of the impressionists to get things right, to capture the magic in front of them. Technique is just craft, a valuable thing, but it's not in itself art. It can capture your eye, but in the end, not hold it for long.

JC
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2009, 01:29:48 PM »
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Quote from: John Camp
The very best photographs capture the magic of a given scene. Think of Ansel Adams "Moonrise" or Paul Caponigro's "Running White Deer," or other well-known photos. In the very best photos, technique (and "print quality") becomes less important -- for example, Robert Capa's blurred and nearly destroyed photos of the D-Day landings.

But, exquisite technique can give a drab subject the gloss of "art," though it's a gloss that tends to go away. You'll always want to take something from the subject beyond technique. It's kind of like the "plein aire" painters working today. They are applying a technique (impressionism) without doing what the impressionists were doing, which was an investigation of the psychological and physical qualities of light. So you see a lot of faked up or over-dramatized colors and loose splashes of paint which completely miss the struggle of the impressionists to get things right, to capture the magic in front of them. Technique is just craft, a valuable thing, but it's not in itself art. It can capture your eye, but in the end, not hold it for long.

JC

Hmmm. Yes and no. I like John Szarkowksi's observation to the effect that Ansel Adams' elaborate technique was "no more than was required for what he was trying to say". It's hard to imagine Moonrise, Hernandez or Aspens, New Mexico having remotely the same impact as indifferent 8x10" prints. I can appreciate the synergistic fusion of technique and vision seen in the beautiful Ilfochromes of Christopher Burkett or Charlie Cramer's inkjet prints. The meticulous craft is surely an integral part of the art.

On the other hand, I'm with you all the way if you're talking about Andreas Gursky's huge prints, or the theatrical confections of Jeff Wall or Gregory Crewdson. Here it's all technique and bragadaccio, at least to me. No doubt the illuminati of the art world feel differently; but that's part of why 'fine art' has become so thoroughly irrelevant and remote from the average viewer nowadays.
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John Camp
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« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2009, 03:05:32 PM »
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Yeah, I agree with most of what you said (though I like Jeff Wall, and think there's something there.) I'm not against technique at all; Capa even had good technique - somebody else messed up the photos. It's just that technique (or finish, or print quality) can *sometimes* be disposable in a great photo, but the magic isn't. That comment from Szarkowski is interesting. And I think, probably, correct.

JC
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luong
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« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2009, 03:21:43 PM »
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I find Shore to be  very intelligible, unlike many art writers. He explains very well what large format photography brings to his photography, but that's not all there is to it. If you study the images carefully, you will find that they are very well composed and framed, behind the first random appearance.

I am surprised at the comment that Gursky's photos are all about technique. Gursky has shown in all his work a very consistent vision of our world, our creations, their immensity,  and our place within, and precisely nothing but the technique that he uses would convey that vision. Like many original large art pieces, this can be difficult to appreciate in book form, but when seen in person, the prints almost never fail to impress even casual viewers.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2009, 04:15:26 PM »
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Quote from: luong
I find Shore to be  very intelligible, unlike many art writers. He explains very well what large format photography brings to his photography, but that's not all there is to it. If you study the images carefully, you will find that they are very well composed and framed, behind the first random appearance.

I am surprised at the comment that Gursky's photos are all about technique. Gursky has shown in all his work a very consistent vision of our world, our creations, their immensity,  and our place within, and precisely nothing but the technique that he uses would convey that vision. Like many original large art pieces, this can be difficult to appreciate in book form, but when seen in person, the prints almost never fail to impress even casual viewers.

Just my opinion of course; but to me Gursky's work is indeed all about technique. They're digitally polished photo-illustrations printed to huge sizes to visually bat the viewer over the head. I can appreciate the formalist beauty (ala Robert Adams) of images like his 99 cent or Shanghai 2000, but the implied sarcasm leaves me cold. The art world obviously loves it though.
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jjj
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« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2009, 09:16:36 AM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
Just my opinion of course; but to me Gursky's work is indeed all about technique. They're digitally polished photo-illustrations printed to huge sizes to visually bat the viewer over the head. I can appreciate the formalist beauty (ala Robert Adams) of images like his 99 cent or Shanghai 2000, but the implied sarcasm leaves me cold. The art world obviously loves it though.
Have you ever seen Gursky's work in person or say Gregory Crewdson's? It is very different to seeing it in a book, just like seeing large painting as small reproductions. They don't have the impact or immediacy of seeing it for real. If you shoot image to be displayed as large prints, so very often they lose an awful lot when 'only' say A4 in size. The same thing applies to films. Some are great in the cinema, but fall completely flat on the TV. I have seen some films on many occasions on the big screen and enjoyed them each time. I then saw them on TV [not a small TV either] and they had a fraction of the impact. Size or more accurately here scale does matter.
I'd seen Crewdson's work many times in magazines/books and not really noticed it. In a gallery however, I was drawn to his images from across the room, they were really beautiful. And much better quality for not being reproductions. Gursky's work is the same, much better appreciated at the size the creator intended.

The other response is that they are simply not to your taste. And obviously the 'art world' has a different taste to you.
People confuse what they personally like with what is good. Not the same thing. At all.
Images prefered by the 'Art World' do seem to be more on the banal side would be my observation and having a quick look at Stephen Shore's work, it certainlyfalls into that category, but until I see them in the flesh, I'm not going to be able to make an accurate assesment. But they do look like the sort of snapshots presented as art that seems to go down well in certain circles. Crewdson and Gursky's work is nothing like that as they are very carefully contructed and put together images.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2009, 12:12:35 PM »
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People confuse what they personally like with what is good. Not the same thing. At all.

I completely agree, and I'm always willing to accept the high probability that my own opinion on the subject is rubbish.

My personal take on contemporary art is that it is produced, defined, analyzed, valued and consumed by an increasingly rarified and limited subset of highly educated and extremely affluent people. "Challenging" (i.e., incomprehensible or hideous) is a term of praise, while "accessible" (i.e., comprehensible or beautiful) has become a term of derision. As a result, contemporary art now occupies a distant Olympian region so far removed from the interests, tastes and experiences of the average educated lay audience that it's become utterly irrelevant to public discourse. This in my judgment makes it a complete failure as art.

A few generations ago, artists such as Ansel Adams, William Carlos Williams, Thomas Hart Benton or John Steuart Curry were part of a robust public forum of images and ideas, and their work was accessible to most any educated adult, which is not for a moment to say that their content was simple. Today mainstream contemporary art is virtually incomprehensible even to educated folks favorably disposed to try understanding it. I guess that's considered a feature, not a bug. And that to me sums up the problem with it.
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jjj
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« Reply #14 on: April 14, 2009, 04:33:55 PM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
My personal take on contemporary art is that it is produced, defined, analyzed, valued and consumed by an increasingly rarified and limited subset of highly educated and extremely affluent people.
I'd strongly disagree with the assertion that it's a rich person's game with regard to the creators. A photographer who name escapes me off hand and fits right into the art world photography ethos, did so by documenting his desperately poor background. In the UK you didn't have to have money to go to art school either.  Art is not just a middle class thing.
A few may earn some money, but that's another thing altogether and nothing wrong with that.

And Art has always been funded by the affluent and always will be. At least someone is funding it, so I wouldn't complain too much, as most Art wouldn't have existed without patronage. Mainly as Art is essentially worthless, if it had intrinsic value then it would be commercial work not art. Such as design/crafts output.


Quote
"Challenging" (i.e., incomprehensible or hideous) is a term of praise, while "accessible" (i.e., comprehensible or beautiful) has become a term of derision. As a result, contemporary art now occupies a distant Olympian region so far removed from the interests, tastes and experiences of the average educated lay audience that it's become utterly irrelevant to public discourse. This in my judgment makes it a complete failure as art.
Or not to your taste. Many art forms that are now very acceptable were hideous rubbish in their time too. Impressionisn, Van Gogh for example. All new music listened to by teenagers is rubbish according to parents and their parents told them the same in their time too. Though sadly, of late music stopped being rebellious and is now completely inoffensive and bland as it simply recyles the past. Again and again and again.

Quote
A few generations ago, artists such as Ansel Adams, William Carlos Williams, Thomas Hart Benton or John Steuart Curry were part of a robust public forum of images and ideas, and their work was accessible to most any educated adult, which is not for a moment to say that their content was simple. Today mainstream contemporary art is virtually incomprehensible even to educated folks favorably disposed to try understanding it. I guess that's considered a feature, not a bug. And that to me sums up the problem with it.
All modern art is considered rubbish until time passes when it becomes iconic, unlike the new modern rubbish!     WCW's work was probably avant garde at one time. Ansel Adams was hardly a wacky artist, simply a very good one working fairly uncontroversialy. Some of Benton's stuff would be way out for some and Curry's stuff looks amateurish to me.

Also, why should art be accessible? TV or films made acccessible is usually accused of being dumbed down. So you cannot win either way.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #15 on: April 14, 2009, 07:20:24 PM »
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Quote from: jjj
A photographer who name escapes me off hand and fits right into the art world photography ethos, did so by documenting his desperately poor background.

Nick Wapplington, I think is the fellow you're referring to. But it wasn't just his desperately poor background. If my memory serves, he took utterly pitiless photos of his drunken alcoholic father stumbling and falling ("Ray's a laff"), publishing them to great critical acclaim. This speaks for itself if you think it "fits right into the art world photography ethos".

I can't agree with most of what you're saying, though it's always great to toss the ideas around. I still feel most strongly that contemporary art has removed itself from the realm of the typical educated layperson in ways that are far beyond historical precedent. Average folks nationwide lined up and paid money just for a glimpse at one of Bierstadt's paintings 150 years ago. It's difficult to imagine such popular enthusiasm for high art nowadays.
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ChrisS
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« Reply #16 on: April 15, 2009, 02:28:39 AM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
Nick Wapplington, I think is the fellow you're referring to. But it wasn't just his desperately poor background. If my memory serves, he took utterly pitiless photos of his drunken alcoholic father stumbling and falling ("Ray's a laff"), publishing them to great critical acclaim. This speaks for itself if you think it "fits right into the art world photography ethos".

I can't agree with most of what you're saying, though it's always great to toss the ideas around. I still feel most strongly that contemporary art has removed itself from the realm of the typical educated layperson in ways that are far beyond historical precedent. Average folks nationwide lined up and paid money just for a glimpse at one of Bierstadt's paintings 150 years ago. It's difficult to imagine such popular enthusiasm for high art nowadays.

Don't you mean Richard Billingham?
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #17 on: April 15, 2009, 05:49:48 AM »
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Don't you mean Richard Billingham?

Dang. Clearly I conflated the two of them; their work has the same flavor, at least in my limited brain.
Thanks.
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KSH
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« Reply #18 on: April 15, 2009, 07:37:01 AM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
...

I can't agree with most of what you're saying, though it's always great to toss the ideas around. I still feel most strongly that contemporary art has removed itself from the realm of the typical educated layperson in ways that are far beyond historical precedent. Average folks nationwide lined up and paid money just for a glimpse at one of Bierstadt's paintings 150 years ago. It's difficult to imagine such popular enthusiasm for high art nowadays.

I saw the Gursky exhibition in 2007 in Munich. Due to its huge success the duration was extended for a month or so. It attracted huge crowds and was open in the evenings, too. I am confident that the vast majority of people attending the exhibition were not elitist noveaux riches who pretended to like the work even though they did not. I believe most of them simply wanted to see the pictures - probably the same as in the Bierstadt exhibitions you are referring to.

I don't want to make you like Gursky or admit that he is a great artist (although I personally believe that he is). What bothers me is that, at least in your post, you seem very ready to judge works of art on the basis of what you perceive to be the attitude behind it. I prefer to see what the individual work of art does to me, rather than conjecturing what I think the artist was trying to do, and with what attitude. I also doubt the usefulness of generalisations about "modern art", and I am wary of statements that today everything is completely different and much worse than it was in the past. I am certain that in every past that you are referring to there were a lot of people saying that THEIR present was much worse than what they perceived as the past - in the sense that "impressioniste" was originally conceived as an abuse.

Regards,

Karsten
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #19 on: April 15, 2009, 08:51:57 AM »
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Karsten

I'm always happy to stand corrected when I'm misinformed.
The enthusiasm for Gursky's work in Europe may say something about the sophistication of European audiences for art compared to American, I guess. I still don't see contemporary art making the kind of connection with average educated laypersons that seems the case in the past, at least from what I understand, read, and experience personally. Maybe it's just me.
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