Stephen Shore, one of the most important photographers alive, has shifted all his work to Instagram a couple of years ago. On occasion of his current show at the MoMA, Anika took a close look at his account.
Stephen Shore is among the most important photographers alive. You can say that without danger of exaggerating. His biography reads like one of those stories you only believe in because you know they are true. When he was 14, the Museum of Modern Art in New York bought three of his pictures. Just because the young Shore thought he could show some of his work to Edward Steichen, then curator at the museum. At 17, he crossed Andy Warhol’s path and documented life in the Factory. Before the age of 24, Shore had his first solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first living photographer to have one there, mind you.
Now don’t think this is one of those fairy tales aided by a little bit of chance! Shore is where he is today — currently with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art — because he never contented himself with what he had. After he made a name for himself as a pioneer of American color photography, right next to William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld, and Joel Meyerowitz, he could have sat back. But there was no question of that.
He’s active on Instagram since 2014, and he had to take some criticism for that. What does he do there? Does he want to be cool? Is he afraid of losing touch? The New York Times last uttered this criticism. Late in life, at 70, basically in the 5th act, he gets with the instakids, he goes all in: “do it for the ‘gram”, as they say, the NY Times write. And if you question that, wonders the author, does it mean you’re technophobic? Shore doesn’t mind the criticism and keeps posting one picture a day.
Instagram, his account, he keeps saying this for years, is his new work. But, after more than three years, which is half an eternity by internet measures, something new could come, and it better come quickly. We have really seen enough tufts of grass.
At least of his dogs and cats I can’t get enough, but that’s another story.
We also understood that his photos on Instagram are supposed to look like they’ve been taken by just anyone. Like back in the day, in the 1970s, when he shot every meal, every toilet and every bed on his road trip, and when he put in little mistakes so it looked like an amateur’s work, maybe a tourist’s. Shore spoke of snapshotness, but he took great pains for that.
On Instagram, he can draw on his project “American Surfaces” — in content and in style. He documents the everyday and the banal. Preferably, when he is walking his dogs, and his gaze is with theirs, close to the ground. He takes visual notes, shares them on Instagram, like his neighbour, or my mother. On the go, shoot something with the iPhone, post it unedited. But, as Jörg M. Colberg, assistant professor for photography at Hartford Art School/University of Hartford, says about the normal Instagram user: “Somehow better. Looks more real. More convincing.”
Exhibit A: not @stephen.shore, but the author’s mother, @ga_mei, on Instagram.
Shore has lots of fun with the social photo network. On the MoMA website he states again why he likes it so much:
But also, in Instagram, I’m fascinated by the visual communities that develop. I find it very satisfying that they’re a group of people who look at each other’s work every day, and they’re all over the world. And when I do meet people that I look at regularly on Instagram, I have a feeling that we’re friends, that I know them well.
Of course that’s all incredibly charming. He actually responds to the comments on Instagram, or looks at other accounts, and when he stumbles upon something, he comments with star emojis.
Shore once said: “I distinguish two groups of photographers: the ones that are driven by a single idea for decades, like Atget or the Bechers. And the others who reinvent themselves in different stylistic phases.” So you don’t have to be a technophobe, you just have to think of the “restless reformer”, as the NYT calls Shore. It’s about time he reinvents himself, for instance on Instagram.
This article has first been published in German on the website of Monopol Magazin.