Journal – July 06, 1973 © Stephen Shore
On July 4th 1973, after finishing the pancakes he had ordered for breakfast, Stephen Shore used his Amex card (number 029 473 953 7501AX) to pay the bill ($30.48) for his night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Town in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He took five photographs in town before driving west to Blue Mountain – in time for a shrimp creole lunch at the local Howard Johnson’s. On he drove, reaching Greensburg by nightfall. After a plate of spaghetti at the Eat In Park he spent the night at the Executive Motor Lodge, watching NBC’s Dragnet spin-off Adam-12 before retiring.
Journal – July 16, 1973 © Stephen Shore
As Shore explains, “On this trip in ’73 I kept a log of various facts – essentially what I wanted to do was to keep a kind of journal that was not a personal diary. It wasn’t a record of my impressions, but it described a trip in more neutral terms. And so I reported how many miles I drove, where and what I ate, where I stayed, what I watched on television, or, when I went to the movies, what I saw. Then I also made a collection of all the printed matter that came my way – receipts, hotel stationery, postcards, occasional clippings from newspapers, parking tickets and so on. And when I got back from the trip I pasted this all into a book, which is now being reproduced in facsimile, full size.”
“That’s the first part – there are essentially two parts to it. Also, every day I made a written record of all the photographs I took with my medium format camera – and the second main part of the journal is the reproduction, in chronological order, of every one of those pictures from that trip. Every single one, including the occasional double exposure. The photos are the supplementary back matter to the journal”
Bay Movie House, Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973 © Stephen Shore
In its impassive acknowledgement of the routines of everyday consumption, the Journal bears comparison with the work of one of Shore’s former associates, Andy Warhol.
Shore concurs: “Generally speaking, at around that time there were three people whose work, in a combined way, influenced me – Walker Evans, Ed Ruscha (by his books), and Andy Warhol. With Warhol, there were a number of things of importance. I’d spent three years at The Factory and it had been the first time I’d seen an artist at work. He displayed a fascination with contemporary culture and I admired his use of surreal imagery. And yes, with regard to my own attempts to record every detail about something, bear in mind that I was at The Factory when Warhol wrote the novel “a” which was his attempt to try and record everything that happened to someone in the course of a day.”
Despite the industry of his diary-keeping, the Journal discloses no intimacies of its author’s personal life. As is the case with the work of Evans, Ruscha and Warhol, the book is determinedly sceptical about photography’s capacity to convey emotional content or self-expression. In this regard, Shore cites another forbear:
“I felt that the main influence on me during those years was that of Walker Evans – not just because we were both trying to look at America through a view camera, but also because I had always felt that temperamentally we were similar. We both employed a more formal, classic approach to taking pictures and it’s a way of working that is wary, or suspicious, of photography that tries to manipulate the emotions of the viewer.”
“For example, if you look at the work of Robert Frank I think you can see that it is more directed – it has a more obvious point of view. But I saw culture in a more complex way than taking a particular point of view towards it would allow. In other words, my point of view was the complexity of the phenomenon.”
Journal – July 18, 1973 © Stephen Shore
Part that complexity was that America – unlike most art photography of the time – existed in colour. “I didn’t understand the prohibition against colour. I was looking at postcards, snapshots, TV, movies, magazines – all of which were in colour. However there was this hold-out in the world of art photography against it. But a significant part of the information you can relay about a society is its palette.”
In its embrace of colour and in its conceptual underpinnings the Road Trip Journal stands as the most complete, and the most engrossing, expression of Shore’s work from the 1970’s. By dint of the accumulation and repetition of detail, an assiduously-composed picture emerges of a journey and a country. But not, of course, of a photographer.
© Guy Lane, 2008.
A Road Trip Journal
Images and Texts by Stephen Shore
Published by Phaidon Press (forthcoming)
Price £125.00/ €175.00
Hardback with slipcase
ISBN: 978 0 7148 4801 3
An edited version of this interview first published in Art World magazine.