Summary: Stephen Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’

An awesome month on the Photo Book Club looking at Stephen Shore’s masterpiece, a big thanks to all who contributed to the discussion with a special shout to Kurt Easterwood for sharing a fantastic piece of extended writing on one of Shore’s images.

Through March we will be looking at Sally Mann’s ‘Immediate Family’, so as always, if you would like to share your thoughts, get in touch.

– Matt

You can check out all 16 posts from this month below:

Still haven’t seen the book?

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, A Conclusion

Here is the fourth and final extraction from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt produced a fantasticaly rich deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

A Conclusion

At most, Shore probably spent about 30 minutes standing at the corner of Fifteenth and Vine, framing the scene, adjusting the focus, measuring the light, preparing the film holder, and tripping the shutter. We can be fairly certain he did all these things blissfully unaware of Over-the-Rhine’s German immigrant antecedents, trends in outdoor advertising, or pawn shops as economic indicators. Nor is it likely that Shore took the inverted image he found on his camera’s ground glass and flipped it over in his mind, ruminating on what sociological discourse the graphical elements contained within his frame’s borders might conspire to conjure up for future travelers on his tour of uncommon places.

Thus there is a very real possibility that readers will bristle at my deconstruction of this photo, and the introduction of what may seem like incidental history and tangential politics in an attempt to locate the photo within a much broader context than Shore ever intended. Seeing as I’m likely guilty as charged on that count, in my defense let me stipulate that I see the tour I took of “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974” less as a deconstruction of an image and more a construction of a separate image, akin say to Mark Klett’s rephotography projects.  Like the spirit in which those are undertaken, the aim has not been to bring Shore’s original photo kicking and screaming into a context imposed from outside, or to re-align it to fight some rhetorical battle, but to merely have it in hand like a trusty map as I negotiate its spaces nearly 40 years later. It’s my hope that the new topography I have constructed as a result informs the old, much as Shore’s two-dimensional photographs in Uncommon Places built upon and informed their physical counterparts. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The Photographers Presence

Here is the third teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

In this installation Kurt looks at Shore’s presence in the scene itself….

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

As our last stop on this exploratory journey, a final sightseeing viewpoint as it were, let’s ponder for a moment one more spot at the corner of Vine and Fifteenth, the spot Shore placed his tripod and set up his view camera to capture this scene. Shore’s presence, and the position of his tripod and camera, is referred to, if not exactly reflected in Lee Friedlander-like fashion, by the out of focus “Bus Stop: No Standing” sign that could be nowhere else but directly in front of where Shore was standing. We smile at the sign like we do at other occasional ironical signage in Uncommon Places — e.g. “MECCA” (p. 129) or “John F. Kennedy said: “ART IS TRUTH”” (P. 133) — as if Shore were thumbing his nose at the municipal establishment that would deign to tell him where he could or could not stand his tripod.

STEPHEN SHORE

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

The Photographer’s Presence

But telling people where they can or cannot stand in the form of municipal anti-loitering ordinances has long been a tactic used by city governments and police forces to exert undue control over citizens in lower-income areas. Three years before Shore took his photo, the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down Cincinnati’s own anti-loitering ordinance as unconstitutional. The ordinance had held that “It shall be unlawful for three or more persons to assemble, except at a public meeting of citizens, on any of the sidewalks, street corners, vacant lots, or mouths of alleys, and there conduct themselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by, or occupants of adjacent buildings.” In a footnote to his opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that, “The alleged discriminatory enforcement of this ordinance figured prominently in the background of the serious civil disturbances that took place in Cincinnati in June 1967,” by which he was referring to race riots in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale that spread over into Over-the-Rhine.

The sign can then be read not just as a joke of Shore’s own making, but as an ironic and not necessarily unintentional questioning of Shore’s right to be there, assembling these elements in a manner annoying to persons passing by, “an alien element impeding the activity on the street.”  READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The History

The second teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’sWest Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974′ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

History

Fifteenth and Vine is in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (or OTR) neighborhood, one of the oldest parts of the city. It came to prominence — and indeed acquired its name — from the many German immigrants who worked there in the 1800s and later settled in the area and built many of the homes and buildings that stand to this day. By the turn of the century, Cincinnati, along with cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, was home to one of the largest Germany immigrant communities in the United States. However, while already in a long, slow decline in the first half of the 20th century — in particular, its many breweries were hit hard by Prohibition — OTR’s fortunes declined rapidly after World War II as so-called “white flight” began to take hold, with residents moving to outlying suburbs and retail businesses following them shortly thereafter. The deteriorating structures became a source of cheap housing for a successive wave of first poor whites from Appalachia and then African Americans displaced from the historically black neighborhood of West End that had been demolished in part by the construction of an expressway — an expressway that if not a literal escape route was at least a figurative thoroughfare that helped pave the way for whites’ exodus to suburbia.

At the time when Shore took his photograph, the population of OTR was only around 15,000, a significant drop from a population of 45,000 in 1900. One-third of these remaining residents were African American. By 1990, less than 10,000 people lived in the area, 71% of them African American. 5 In 2001, Vine Street and the surrounding areas were the scenes of a race riot when an African American teenager was shot and killed by a member of the overwhelmingly white Cincinnati police force. As of this writing, Vine Street and various other places in OTR are part of a massive urban renewal project, and indeed most of the land and buildings in the 1400 block of Vine Street, which comprises much of Shore’s photo, are now owned by a tax-exempt, private, non-profit corporation called The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., or 3CDC, which has renovated or is in the process of renovating the structures for loft apartments or retail spaces. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Stephen Shore at SFMOMA…

I hope some ‘Club readers were able to get tickets to Shore’s talk at SFMOMA last week, for those that did not, luckily Stan Banos was in attendance and has written about the talk and Shore’s style over here. Also in attendance was Mark Wilson who, after enjoying Kurt Easterwood’s extended writing on ‘West Fifteenth and Pine…’ got the photograph below of Shore with said image. Big thanks to Stan and Mark!

IMAGE: MARK WILSON

If you haven’t checked out Kurt’s fantastic piece on this image, you can do so by reading the PDF below.
PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

I should also point out that due to all the great contributions this year, we may run slightly into March with this book! Not even the added February day of the Gregorian calendar can help us here. (And as a heads-up, following the weekend, we will be looking at Sally Mann’s ‘Immediate Family’)

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, An Extended Introduction

Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures has produced an extended piece of writing on one of Shore’s images featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and as well as finding the full PDF underneath the image or right here, this is the first post also featuring an extraction from the full article, this time an extended introduction to the full article.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

An Extended Introduction

I would like to explore Uncommon Places: The Complete Works by looking at a single photo, a photo that like all the photos of Uncommon Places can only be referred to by its caption, “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974”, which appears on page 43. This photo was not included in the original publication, and while it would certainly be a useful exercise to discuss why not, I would rather take Shore’s inclusion of the photo in the revised edition to mean that for him the photograph is an important part of the complete work.

It is tempting to be self-deprecating on the photograph’s behalf and acknowledge that it’s true there is nothing particularly compelling about this photo that would cause it to stand out in relation to the other photographs in the book, but saying that would imply that Uncommon Places: The Complete Works contains stand-out photographs. It does not, which is precisely why it is such a wonderful book to look at. The power of Uncommon Places is not the sort where each turn of the page knocks us back into a sublime revelry. Its power rather results from an accumulation of what Gerry Badger has called “quiet” photographs 3, and it is this quiet tone that allows us, if we are so willing, to journey along with Shore, and occasionally to step off and linger a bit at stops along the way, to explore further.

Several years ago when I got my copy of Uncommon Places: The Complete Works, this ordinary, dare I say nondescript, photograph taken in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1974 caused me to dwell and ponder a bit longer than the others. For personal reasons (I had a suspicion I had once been on this section of Vine street during a visit to Cincinnati in 1987), and for graphic, visual reasons (there was something in the denseness of the signage on the left side of the photo, and a single, dominant sign on the right side that visually appealed to me), I felt compelled to explore the photo further. What follows is an account of this one stop on Shore’s larger journey — my journey within a journey, we could say — and what I found at West Fifteenth and Vine in Cincinnati. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

Super excited for this ‘mini-series’ which will be posted over the last week of our Stephen Shore month. Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures has produced an extended piece of writing on one of Shore’s images featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and as well as finding the full PDF at the bottom of the post or right here, there will be 4 posts coming up with little sneak peaks.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

“A few years ago when I got Stephen Shore’s revised Uncommon Places book, I couldn’t get over how familiar the places looked to me, though surely most of the towns and places he shot I’ve never been to. But one image was more familiar than any other — a street scene from Cincinnati. “I’ve been here!”, I remember exclaiming to myself, and I started to take notes about the image. Now five years later, I’ve used Shore’s photo (and my notes) to visit that photo, that place, one more time.”

– Kurt Easterwood

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

Kunstler, Venturi and Stephen Shore

The subjects of Shore’s images in ‘Uncommon Places’ could well illustrate architect Robert Venturi’s seminal ‘Learning From Las Vegas‘ as they represent Venturi’s comments on the highway-dictated landscape to a tee.


Below I have pulled a few quotes from ‘Learning from Las Vegas‘ as well as James Howard Kunstler’s ‘The Geography of Nowhere‘ (more concerned with urban sprawl than PoMo architecture). I think these quotes really highlight the importance of Shore’s work in elevating and evaluating the everyday and ordinary in America.

(Of interest – Venturi wrote a few words on Uncommon Places which are featured on the back cover)

– Matt

IMAGE STEPHEN SHORE

“Acting as symbols, the signs and building identify the space by their location and direction, and space is further defined and directed by utility poles and street parking patterns.”
– Robert Venturi/Denise Scott Brown/Steven Izenour

“Ever-busy, ever-building, ever-in-motion, ever-throwing-out the old for the new, we have hardly paused to think about what we are so busy building, and what we have thrown away.”
– James Howard Kunstler

IMAGE STEPHEN SHORE

 “On the commercial strip the supermarket windows contain no merchandise. There may be signs announcing the day’s bargains, but they are to be read by pedestrians approaching from the parking lot.”
– Robert Venturi/Denise Scott Brown/Steven Izenour

IMAGE STEPHEN SHORE

“Americans are doing almost nothing to prepare for the end of the romantic dream that was the automobile age.”
– James Howard Kunstler

“The freedom to get up and move is a premise of the national experience. It is the physical expression of the freedom to move upward socially, absent in other societies. The automobile allowed this expression to be carried to absurd extremes.”
– James Howard Kunstler

IMAGE STEPHEN SHORE

“Service stations, motels and other simpler types of buildings conform in general to this system of inflection toward the highway through the position and form of their elements. Regardless of the front, the back of the building is styleless, because the whole is turned towards the front and no one sees the back.”
– Robert Venturi/Denise Scott Brown/Steven Izenour

 

Stephen Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’ and Geography

Perhaps this is a little geeky, but I hear that geek is the new black so I shall proceed…
I was keen to look at the locations of the original images in the 1982 publication as I had been noticing so many Texas, Florida and California locations that I wondered how the spread of images fell across a map. I plotted all locations from the original map into a google map which is placed below.


View Stephen Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’ in a larger map

You can see from the spread just how many States are left unrepresented by Shore’s democratic camera. And while I am not suggesting each State and town should be represented equally, I find it interesting that so much of middle America was ignored in the original.

The Bay Theater

For those counting, the States with the most images are:
Texas…7
Florida…6
California…4

– Matt

Stephen Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’ and Memory

I have been thinking a little about memory lately (I can partly blame Ken Schles’ talk here) and have enjoyed seeing posts regarding the Google ‘Visually Similar Images‘ search. I was also casting an eye over the Galata Bridge experiment over on LPV Magazine this past weekend and thought I would try a one-man band version, only with images solely from ‘Uncommon Places’, and no sequence in mind, and no commentary, so really nothing like it!

And so what follows below are Shore’s images that triggered a memory of another image, perhaps they are a little on the nose, and certainly informed by the latest books I have been looking at, but I find them interesting nonetheless. If you have your own memory-pairs in mind, send me a link and I will upload them.

– Matt

Dorothea Lange and Stephen Shore

Dorothea Lange
‘Towards Los Angeles, California 1973’

Larry Sultan and Stephen Shore

Larry Sultan
‘Dad on Bed, 1985’

Edward Hopper and Stephen Shore

Edward Hopper
‘Office in a Small City, 1953’

Simon Roberts and Stephen Shore

Simon Roberts
‘River Wharfe, Skipton, North Yorkshire, 27 July 2008’

Edmund Clark and Larry Sultan and Stephen Shore

Edmund Clark
‘Camp One, Exercise Cage’ (From series ‘Guantanamo, If the Light Goes Out’)

Larry Sultan
‘Batting Cage 2007’

Walker Evans and Stephen Shore

Walker Evans
‘Kitchen Corner, Tenant Farmhouse, Hale County, Alabama, 1936’

Jeff Brouws and Stephen Shore

Jeff Brouws
‘Farm Forms’

Wim Wenders and Stephen Shore

Wim Wenders
‘Safeway, Corpus Christi, Texas’

Havn’t seen ‘Uncommon Places’ yet? Have a look…