“Fishing, like photography, is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy.”
Always moving forward, never locking into a single style, and seeing each image as a problem to solve: this approach has characterized Stephen Shore’s work for the past 50 years, regardless of his techniques, processes, or subjects. “Whenever I find myself copying myself—making pictures whose problems I’ve already solved—I give myself new issues to pursue,” he has said. His work encompasses black-and-white snapshots in the 1960s, color and large-format camera photographs from the 1970s to the 1990s, print-on-demand books in the early 2000s, and, beginning in 2014, Instagram posts. His shifts between color and black and white, his use of both analog and digital technologies, and his constant variation of scale and subject have produced a visually disparate body of work in which the prevailing rule seems to be the absence of rules.
But the apparently unfathomable quality of Shore’s photographs should not obscure the fact that his work is founded on ideas that he uses to resolve the “problem” presented by each image. The first of these is his search for maximum clarity. This has been evident since the 1970s, when he began using an 8-by-10-inch large-format camera, and is now furthered by the technical advancements of digital cameras, which allow for extreme precision but are much easier to handle than traditional view cameras. Another guiding principle in the majority of Shore’s photographs is a respect for natural light. His work does not include images taken at night, and, except in his early work, he very rarely uses artificial light or a flash. But perhaps the most consistent of his methods is the discipline he exercises in taking as few shots as possible, a habit that owes a great deal to his earlier use of large, cumbersome view cameras that require expensive negative processing. He takes one shot of a given subject, and does very little editing of the image afterward.
Shore’s approach to photography is both deadpan and contemplative, and marked by a willful economy of means. He likens the process of shooting photographs to one of his favorite activities: fishing. “I’ve found through experience that whenever—or so it seems—my attention wanders or I look away then surely a fish will rise to the fly and I will be too late setting the hook. I watch the fly calmly and attentively so that when the fish strikes—I strike. Then the line tightens, the playing of the fish begins, and time stands still. Fishing, like photography, is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy.”
Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, 2017