I’ve often wondered what defines the United States. Is it the polarising politics? The proud, hammering patriotism?The melting pot of cultures and lifestyles? Within this reassurance of nostalgia hyped up by popular culture, one book returns from the past with a subtle yet brilliant impact.
Though met with puzzlement when first published, Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces is a very telling piece of its time. Having traveled in 1972 from New York to Texas and back, Shore inhales everything around him. No sight is too banal or sordid and we get these really telling moments from a bygone era. A “palette of the age” seems to capture what I’m trying to say here. All images appear to utilise flash, all are in landscape and their breadth remains impressive.
We see meals, buildings, portraits and everything in-between. Though the shots of food make us think of today’s influencers, he seems to capture houses and other buildings rather well. The pop art feel comes in with the many photos of adverts, stands and sign posts throughout his American journey. Though only 24 at the time, his eye for a real cracking image is proven here and would herald a fine career in photography.
You can see Andy Warhol and his numerous polaroids soon to create similar sights, though on a much more intimate scale. An interesting feature here is the ominous shadow which lingers over models for their portraits, due to the intensity of the flash. This is undoubtedly the most 70s thing you will ever see…the fashion, design, cars and advertisements are all its testament. This is very much my parents era, yet I still have a pang for this yesteryear.
There truly is a real joy in these haunting, candid shots.
Although this revised and expanded edition is sold out, we can only hope more copies come out soon.
Price: £49.95 Published by Phaidon.