Stephen Shore

Installation view of _Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City,_ organized by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour, and Denise Scott Brown, Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C., February 26–October 31, 1976. Photo: Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore. Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City. 1976 368

Installation view of Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City, organized by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour, and Denise Scott Brown, Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C., February 26–October 31, 1976. Photo: Stephen Shore

One of the things I find fascinating about commissions is that it forces me to do things I would not normally do on my own. And I find that very useful, and it expands my thinking.

In 1975, the architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi commissioned me to take photographs for a bicentennial exhibition they were planning for the Smithsonian called Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City. I traveled from Los Angeles to New York and photographed along the way, keeping in mind a list of different kinds of architecture that Scott Brown and Venturi had given me.

Later in this show, you’re gonna see some work I did in the village of Luzzara, in Italy. In a letter that Paul Strand had written when he had photographed in the same village 40 years before I was there, he said, “It was very difficult to photograph in Luzzara, because there are no buildings of architectural interest.”

And I found that phrase very meaningful and fascinating. To Strand, it might mean a building by a fine architect, or a building that was resonant of the builder’s humanity.

But, for me, the idea of architectural interest was something else, which is that I was fascinated by cultural forces. But, I can’t photograph a cultural force; I can only photograph things that become visible in the world. And one of the ways they become visible is in architecture. Not just what was built, but how it was transformed over the years. And so, the idea that a town would have buildings of no architectural interest is, for me, inconceivable.

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