In 1972, at the age of 24, an unknown photographer who had been hanging out in the shadow of Andy Warhol's factory embarked on a Kerouacian criss-cross of the United States. Armed with a point-and-shoot camera, Stephen Shore zigzagged through the American landscape, determined to photograph every meal he ate, every person he met, and every place he visited. From Manhattan to Amarillo, Cape Canaveral to Painted Hills, Shore made quick color snapshots of greasy-spoon countertops, unassuming middle-class homes, window displays, overcooked omelets, and grimy pay phones with a vernacular jubilation that would have made Walt Whitman proud.
Concurrent with (but unrelated to) a major retrospective of Shore's work, Phaidon has published American Surfaces in a gorgeous volume that, for fans of photography, is like meeting a missing relative who shares all of your mysterious quirks. To say that Shore's casual color snapshots look influential is an understatement. These photographs, which broke every accepted rule about art photography at the time (their color, their informality, their hyper-banal subjects), appear now as blueprints for thousands of photographers who realize that it's hard work to look so casual.
Shore's photographs synthesize three radical artistic approaches. The first comes from the influence of Walker Evans, the Depression-era American photographer who strove for a postcard-like, anonymous approach to image making. Shore's second looming figure is Warhol himself, who brazenly and boldly made refrigerators, celebrities, car crashes, soup cans, and Brillo boxes permissible subject matter in the art world. Finally, the work in American Surfaces foreshadows a generation of "Kmart realist" fiction writers, most notably Raymond Carver. Carver told his stories through details, often in the same settings that Shore's photos document—car dealerships, diners, grocery store parking lots, and dingy motel rooms. Thanks to Phaidon's beautiful new book, audiences are finally given the chance to see the early work of an American master, and to experience a fascinating piece of history that was previously hidden from the generation that it influenced most.