In 1982, when Stephen Shore published Uncommon Places, his landmark book of photographs of 1970s America, he distilled nearly a decade of sprawling, cross-country travels into just 61 lucid, unsentimental, full-color pictures. On the surface they were, in fact, common places, town squares and parking lots and billboards and motels, but Shore’s camera sought the subtle strangeness and unraveling at the edge of the familiar. This was the aftermath of the raw, romantic, rough-and-tumble, Beat-era ride of Robert Frank’s The Americans. The parking lot was the fulfilled goal of car culture aspirations; the billboard depicting a majestic mountain scene mimicked the very landscape whose view it obstructed (U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon). “I wanted to ask myself,” Shore writes in Stephen Shore: Selected Works, 1973–1981, a new book that collects mostly unseen pictures from his monumental project: “‘What does seeing look like?’"
Selected Works explores the act of seeing from another layer of distance, inviting 15 international writers, artists, and cultural figures to choose previously unpublished photographs from Uncommon Places. Contributions by Ed Ruscha, Thomas Struth, Taryn Simon, Paul Graham, Lynne Tillman, and others create a compellingly remixed album of outtakes. Wes Anderson chooses some very, well, Wes Anderson interiors—dated, telling objects (a completed jigsaw puzzle mounted on a wood-panelled wall, an avocado green sink)—and imagines them as scenes: a bank heist getaway, a Three’s Company shoot, a Bruegelian landscape. For a 1977 photograph of a guy sitting morosely alone on the bleachers on a sunny day behind a dugout in Penfield, New York, as a dog noses around in the field, he adds a caption: “Waiting for the scrimmage to end. An ice chest filled somewhere near with Nehi grape sodas? Divorce.”
Here are hometown baseball games played against the backdrop of the Rockies, shuttered storefronts advertising used clothing, a citrus tree heavy with fruit; here, frequently are the green rental cars Shore took on several of his trips, many of them accompanied by his wife, Ginger. These are time capsules, too, as a motel bedside table of lamp, glass ashtray, Carltons, rotary phone, and coin-operated Magic Fingers box attests. Curator Hans Ulbrich Oberst includes in his section an image of a TV set tuned to the channel that showed the time of day. Evident in the new selections are studies of curious arrangements of inanimate and animate things: the pattern-making of storefronts, of parking lots, of crushed beer cans, townspeople gathered at a centennial, tall streetlights that resemble an artificial forest; elsewhere, an actual forest where cut pines lay felled at the feet of the trees left standing. Then back to the sidewalk, where a assortment of modern detritus lies pointedly at the photographer’s own feet: two empty glass bottles, a length of pipe, the plastic rings of a six-pack, a brick, all seemingly aimed Shore’s brown loafers. Portrait of the artist encountering his subject.
In 1971, Shore gave his first solo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, only the second living photographer to do so. He was only 24 at the time and did not yet know how to drive a car. A Manhattan kid, he’d lived his life in a few square miles, though those particular square miles happened to contain the rarified experience of hanging around Andy Warhol’s Factory, casually photographing the Velvet Underground, Nico, Edie Sedgwick, Donovan, and all the other regulars who drifted into its aluminum foil-covered walls. Wanderlust eventually struck, and Shore succumbed to it.