P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents Stephen Shore: American Surfaces, a solo exhibition by the acclaimed American photographer. It will include more than 300 photographs taken by the artist as he traveled around the country between 1972 and 1973. The works can be seen as a visual diary, recounting the path of someone passing through the world, recording nearly everything he sees and does, and the people he encounters along the way. This exhibition is on view from October 23, 2005 through January 23, 2006.
American Surfaces is a photographic version of a road movie, and in that tradition it has at times a downbeat mood: its director/protagonist is often drawn to the bleak and the mundane. Frequently nothing seems to be happening, or something wholly unremarkable has been recorded. And yet there is tremendous beauty here—beauty found where it's least expected—as well as humor and pathos. American Surfaces is a meditation on what it means to be in the world, on what it means to point a camera in one direction rather than another, and no matter what is being recorded its subject is always photography itself.
Like any road movie, there is a potentially endless cast of characters. The man behind the counter in the pawn shop in Farmington, New Mexico, who may well have stood there every day for the past forty years. The boys at the gas station in Selma, Alabama: one younger, white and blond, looking directly towards the camera; the other, older and black, eyes cast down. A photograph of a drifter in the bus station in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is considered by some to be one of the most moving portraits in all of 1970s color photography. These are real people living their lives in a place and time that was already in a sense passing. Here, then, is American Surfaces' larger sociological subject. The urban and commercial sprawl of the mid-to-late 1970s/early 1980s, which paralleled the rise of the tourist economy, would threaten to envelop America in a dulling sameness, depriving much of the country of its distinct character and its people their sense of place. This is, in part, what Shore hoped to, and did, capture.
Alongside William Eggleston, Shore is one of the central figures in 1970s color photography, an artist who built upon some of the best of those itinerant, restless photographers who came before him, from Walker Evans to Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand. Shore is also a pioneer who would exert considerable influence on younger photographers in the 1980s and 1990s, including such well-known artists as Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth.
This exhibition is curated by P.S.1 Curatorial Adviser Bob Nickas. A fully illustrated book, American Surfaces, will be published by Phaidon in the fall, with an introduction by Nickas.