It’s difficult to see one’s own time. To most of us, things look the way they do simply because that’s the way things look. Stephen Shore’s genius was that he saw and photographed his own time with uncanny insight and visual allure. His pictures of America in the early 1970s encapsulate that decade as perfectly as Pollock’s drip paintings epitomize the early 1950s.
Shore saw America through a sort of acerbic-visionary-poker-faced Rockford Files–meets– The French Connection lens, capturing the bleached-out, avocado and ocher, tan and fuchsia of the decade. Just as Walt Whitman voraciously tried to feel everything around him, Shore attempted to see everything around him—or rather all that could be viewed while traveling in a green two-door Plymouth with a large-format camera.
Initially, this exhibition of 49 photos and a video seems like a daunting amount of information to process. It is, but stick with it. The images were made on one of two cross-country trips Shore took 30 years ago when he must have been in a state of photographic grace and simultaneously lost in some heady haze. Shore pictures things that would never be seen on this earth again, an amazing twilight moment in America when traffic was lighter, hair styles could be silly, smorgasbords were just appearing, TV dinners were still ubiquitous, gas cost 36 cents a gallon, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show was on TV. Shore combines the lucidity and dead-on vision of Walker Evans with the deadpan blandness of Andy Warhol. He then adds something caustic, clairvoyant, audacious, blithe, deeply original, and very American.