On the Road with Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore’s solo show at the International Center of Photography focuses on a collection of photos made during extended road trips back and forth across the United States in the 1970s. His project revels in the ephemera of travel—a half-eaten hamburger, a pair of table tennis paddles, an anonymous ladyfriend, a decaying drug store marquee, a lonely intersection in a small Midwestern town, to name just a few.  In lesser hands, any one of these prints would be an ordinary souvenir made by a pretentious East Coast art school student on a post-graduation vacation. Seen together as a set of generously sized prints, however, Shore’s work achieves a slow burn. There is a restless spontaneity to his selection of subject matter that comes from a careful awareness of his constantly shifting surroundings, and yet his resulting documents show acute attention to subtle details of color and composition. For the most part Shore seems to show little interest in making any particular commentary about the places and objects he captures, but concerns himself first and foremost with using them as pure source material to be captured and framed by his sensitive eye. It makes for an understated but quite powerful documentation of a life on the road, and for an intimate, unvarnished portrait of the artifacts of American culture.