Home Arts Stephen Shore’s View Drone Offers Another Side of America

Stephen Shore’s View Drone Offers Another Side of America

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“Over the years, I have researched how different cameras open up different possibilities,” writes American photographer Stephen Shore (b. 1947) in his recent memoir, Modern instances. “Sometimes getting a new camera was like seeing the world with new eyes.” Shore made such a transition in the late 1970s, swapping his 35mm Leica – the lightweight camera (loaded with color film) with which he shot his groundbreaking series, American surfaces (1972-73) — for a large format 8″ by 10″ camera mounted on a tripod, responsible for the patient, structured photographs of Unusual places (1982).

The strange calm

Now Shore returns with a series of works made during the Covid-19 pandemic: a series of aerial photographs taken with a hi-tech drone, a new way of seeing the American surface. The pictures in Topographies: Aerial Surveys of the American Landscape are landscapes, an aerial view of rural Montana (where Shore lived during the lockdown) alongside shots taken in Wyoming, Nebraska, New York and Virginia. There is a stillness in the images, an eerie stillness that reflects the world suddenly stopped. At the same time, it is difficult to escape the voyeurism inherent in the drone, a point of view that is both intrusive and questioning; some images convey a sense of discovery, discovering what was previously hidden or inaccessible.

The photographs are connected by their common language of borders, the endless edges and borders that connect America: fences, rivers, pipelines, railroads and, of course, the endless highways, roads and dirt roads linking one place to another. other. They also explore the interdependence – what critic Richard B. Woodward calls in an introductory essay “American Interdependence” – of the human and natural worlds. Taken together, they offer less a map than a quilted environment, a patchwork of fields, farmland and mountain ranges, small towns and parking lots, forests and lakes; backyards and baseball fields; scrubland and cemeteries.

A photo shows a deep, black tank with steep, extracted sides. Beyond, trees (currently turning orange), a slice of blue river, a town with a suspension bridge. Further on, another river, sprawling forests, distant hills; the rest of America, wide-angle skies. “At a certain height, one can begin to grasp the adjacencies within the landscape,” writes scholar and urban historian Noah Chasin in his preliminary essay, “The Manifestation of Boundaries Between One Thing and Another.”

46°11.409946N, 110°44.018901W (2023) offers another Stephen Shore view of rural Montana
Courtesy of Stephen Shore and MACK

As its title suggests, Shore’s recent work builds on the impact of the 1975s New topographies: photographs of a landscape modified by man, a landmark exhibition where he figured alongside Robert Adams, Frank Gohlke and others. Curated by William Jenkins, the show advocated a shift away from the romantic landscapes of the American West, turning instead to work aimed at the man-made and man-made environment.

While resonating with the abstract aerial images of Edward Burtynsky in The Anthropocene Project (2018) and Andreas Gursky’s elevated vantage points, Shore’s drone images also connect him to an earlier generation of American photographers engaged in capturing the changing landscapes of the United States, in particular his favorite Walker Evans. They even echo the paintings of 19th-century British-American landscape painter Thomas Cole, showing the first signs of colonization encroaching on the wilderness.

Coordinated details offer an uncanny geo-temporal accuracy but also a kind of anonymity

Pictures of Shore in Topographies are matched with their coordinates; look at the index and you’ll find not only the location, but also the date, height, and down-to-the-second timestamps. These details provide an uncanny geo-temporal accuracy, but also underscore a kind of anonymity. Leafing through the photographs, one has the double feeling that they could be from almost anywhere: unique and nowhere in particular. This feeling is perhaps prompted by the drone’s inevitable transformation of the world into a model of itself, a simulation exposing the inherent similarity and repetition of the American surface. “America is a giant hologram of itself, in the sense that information about the whole is contained in each of its elements,” sociologist Jean Baudrillard suggests in his influential cultural survey, America (1988). “Take the tiniest place in the desert, any old street in a Midwestern town, a parking lot, a California house, a Burger King or a Studebaker, and you have the whole of the United States.”

Nonetheless, Shore’s photographs are grounded in detail and discovery: a white horse, a garbage dump, a road cut into a rockslide; pieces of livestock, abandoned factories, patches of scorched earth and ashes left from forest fires. They are “details of a lived reality,” writes Woodward, continuing evidence of Shore’s ability to shed light on what is already there.

Topographies: Aerial Surveys of the American Landscape. By Stephen Shore with essays by Noah Chasin and Richard B. Woodward
MACK, 208pp, 97 color illustrations, £65 (hb), published Jan 9

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