Stephen Shore

(All images in this article are copyrighted by Stephen Shore)

While in Amsterdam I checked out the FOAM photography museum and picked up a book on Stephen Shore. For those of you who may not know, he is one of the early color pioneers in photography in America. Although his style is classified more as documentary and urban landscape, I think there is a lot of things we can learn from him as street photographers. If you are interested in learning more about color and street photography, read on!

1. Create A Visual Diary

(Copyright: Stephen Shore)

Street photography doesn’t only need to be shots of other people walking about on the streets. It can be a deep self-reflection of yourself – and how you see society through your photographs.

When Stephen Shore worked on his “American Surfaces” project, he took a road trip across America and took photos of the following things:

  1. People he met
  2. Meals he ate
  3. Beds he slept in
  4. Art on walls
  5. Store windows
  6. Residential architecture
  7. Television sets watched

He also took all of these photos on a cheap Rollei 35mm camera, and traveled all across America.

Through these images you don’t see the images as they are, but as a reflection of how Stephen Shore saw the places he visited. For example, when he took a photograph of four chicken bones (he just ate at a diner) he did so because he thought the food was awful, and couldn’t understand why anyone would cook or eat that kind of stuff in America.

Therefore when you’re out shooting street photography, try to add your own personality and view of the world in your shots. Don’t feel that all of your shots have to be of crazy-extraordinary “decisive moments – look for the “boring” and mundane things around you to capture. Think about how a series of images can create your own “visual diary”.

2. Shoot Color For Visual Accuracy And Realism

(Copyright: Stephen Shore)

In the book there was a quote by Peter Schjeldahl:

“Black and white can show how something is. Color adds how it is, imbued with temperatures and humidities of experience”.

Former curator of MOMA, John Szarkowski wrote eloquently on these jet as well saying:

“Most color photography, in short, has been either formless or pretty. In the first case the meanings of color have been ignored; in the second they have been at the expense of allusive meanings. While editing directly from life, photographers found it difficult to see simultaneously both the blue and the sky” – John Szarkowski 1976.

Therefore when it comes presenting your work, consider why you decide to present it in color vs black and white. Consider color as a way to see the world in a descriptive and “real” way, and black and white to see the world in a more conceptual and imaginary way (we don’t see the world in black and white).

I also recommend for people to go out shooting thinking in either black and white or color. This is because when you are shooting in the streets, you will see the world differently (depending on how you approach it).

For example, when I’m shooting in black and white film, I see the world as abstractions in terms of lines, shapes, reflections and shadows etc. However when shooting in color I see things like clothes, juxtaposition of colors, logos, etc.

3. Date Your Images

(Copyright: Stephen Shore)

We often look back at the old photos of Paris in the 1920s and feel nostalgia. We tell ourselves, “Man, the world was so much more interesting back then. Why can’t the world we live in be as interesting?”

However consider that people living in the 1920s didn’t find anything interesting about Paris the way we do. Sure in the old photos we see women wearing extravagant outfits and hats, and men with old-school suits. But back then, everyone wore that. It’s kinda like how nowadays when we see someone on their iPhone we think it’s boring. A hundred years from now, I’m sure people will find it fascinating (then they will probably have the iPhone 38s or something).

In his book shore mentions Specifically adding cars or telephone booths to his photos saying,

“I remember thinking that it’s important to put cars in photographs because they are like time seeds. And I learned this from looking at Evans”

So when you are out shooting on the streets, realize that a hundred years from now your photos will be a part of history. Don’t romanticize the past, think about today as tomorrow’s yesterday.

4. Experiment With Different Formats

(Copyright: Stephen Shore). A photograph he shot with an 8×10 view camera.

When Stephen shire was working on his “American Surfaces” project, he used 35mm small format film on a Rollei 35 camera, and took images as “purposeful snapshots“.

However for his next project he embarked on, “Uncommon Places” he decided to switch to a 8×10 large-format view camera (similar to what Ansel Adams used) for more clarity and detail in the urban landscapes he shot.

Also when shooting with his view camera, he could see exactly how his photos would look through the glass plate, which allowed him to create tighter, and better composed images.

Stephen Shore experimented two sides of the spectrum in terms of equipment (a tiny and compact 35mm camera vs a cumbersome view camera on a tripod). By shooting with different cameras, his approach to photographing his subjects changed.

Although I believe in the importance of staying consistent with equipment, I don’t want to restrict your creativity by experimenting. Therefore depending on what project you are working on, try to experiment with different cameras, formats, or equipment. If you shot film all your life, try using an iPhone. If you have only shot digital, try film.

5. Go Against The Grain

(Copyright: Stephen Shore)

When Shore was doing his photography projects With his 8×10 view camera, he was going against small or medium format shooters like Frank, Winogrand, Friedlander, and Arbus. But at the same time, he was going against the f64 group (Ansel Adams group) by shooting color.

Therefore don’t feel like you always have to fit under conventions. Shoot street photography with hipstamatic and add crazy filters if you want. If you like HDR, go ahead and do that.

Although I personally don’t agree with crazy effects or over-processing, once again make yourself happy and try to experiment. To be creative, it is necessary to break out of the typical “boundaries of photography”. However if you are going to break the boundaries in terms of how you present your images, do it consistently and purposefully. Don’t do it for the sake of doing it, but have a real reason why you want to try something differently.


Copyright: Stephen Shore

I feel some of the best insights we can get about street photography isn’t always by street photographers (by definition). Rather, gaining inspiration from other photographers similar to street photographers (and even completely opposite from street photographers) can help us become more creative, to break boundaries, as well as push the limits.

If you want to learn more about color street photography, check out my recent post: “7 Things I Learned About Shooting Street Photography in Color“.

Photo Books by Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore: Uncommon Places

If you want to learn more about Stephen Shore and color photography, check out his photo books below!

What do you think of Stephen Shore’s work or approach? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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  1. I don’t consider Stephen Shore a Street Photographer in the orthodox term of this definition, maybe a Urban Photographer. But maybe definitions are only for forums and didactic needness. I was talkin’ about this with Richard Bram his morning. And he said a thing that could be useful to many: “in many ways, what we now call ‘street’ used to be just ‘photography.’ It is the other genres that have to define themselves.” I agree with him, and with your conclusions Eric.

    Absolute respect for the work of Stephen Shore, and the proof that I appreciate this master is here:

    It is a group I’ve created on flickr as a tribute to his visual research (and also of William Eggleston). An interesting article, mate.

  2. Staying true to the interview that Charlie Kirk did with you, the content of your blog is creating a higher standard. Well done. I absolutely respect what you do and wish you the best. Have a great day.

  3. I think keeping is personal to yourself, and somehow trying to make it a reflection of you is key. It is too easy to fall into the trap of capturing something that someone else will like. If something speaks to YOU, then 90% of the battle is won

  4. Rather than talking about HDR (sorry but for me it sucks and only desktop publishing, never seen something good and photographic) or other editing solutions, I think we should consider a different approach to our Photography. For example, by questioning many commonly accepted rules like the focal lenght used in Street Photography. Ok, most of this genre has taken with normal or wide angle lens, but then there are photographers like Saul Leiter and Danny Santos that show us a way for the Telephoto lenses in the streets. Free ourselves by the rules awaken creativity. And leave the clichés is easier if we if we do not have preconceived notions.

  5. Great advice! Btw, I recently read a book called Alien Phenomenology by philosopher and photographer Ian Bogost. He presents some interesting ideas on Shore as well as photography in general.

  6. Great blog you have. I just found out about it. I definitely relate with Shore’s approach, about showing the photographer’s understanding of the places he’s in.

    1. Cheers Tony. FOAM is an incredible photography gallery. Beautiful space, and great artists showcased. Probably my 2nd favorite photo museum in the world (after the photo museum in Stockholm!)

  7. Fascinating read. I love that 8×10 work! Also interesting about cars as “time-seeds”. I actually consciously avoid cars in my photos for some reason which I can;t quite put my finger on. I may rethink that…

  8. Eric, please consider a different career. You are like a Kardashian, absolutely famous for being nothing. It is sad that a lot have been blinded by your work (if there is any). You WILL definitely make a great career in sales.

    1. Mikael, please consider spending your time on (a) different blog(s). Imho the Kardashian comparison rather applies to you, as you’ve got nothing useful to say. And people haven’t been blinded by anything. Most (yourself excluded, apparently) are smart enough to get what they’re looking for out of this blog, or just move on if it’s not there.

    2. Dear Mikael, thank you for the comment. First of all, I don’t consider myself famous by any means (street photography is such a tiny genre compared to photography as a whole). Also, I am still learning everyday more about street photography, and still have a lot to learn!

  9. This guy’s work is the perfect example of “hipster photography”. No real vision or skill is required to make these images (my photography 101 class in college 20 years ago was LOADED with shots like these), but once a couple “expert commentators” catch on it’s bandwagon city. And if you don’t like it, well “you wouldn’t understand.” lol

    1. Oh I think there’s a lot of skill in shooting LF, and developing your c-41 sheets, enlarging your own colour prints. But that’s just me. I don’t like them either anyway.

    2. It would be a real hoot to see you produce a single 8×10 image that begins to rival anything Shore made as a 25 year old. Those cameras are cumbersome, awkward, and require extremely stopped down apertures, long exposures, and carefully chosen movements to produce the depth of field that created these detail-drenched windows into America’s otherwise forgotten past. To say they don’t require skill is a laughable attempt at an insult, and it says to me you haven’t ever actually LOOKED at any of the photos in the Uncommon Places series, many of which display a rigidly formal understanding of composition that commands fascination and repeat viewing. I’ll agree with you insofar as I don’t love American Surfaces, but Shore’s charm was taking what he learned on that first great road trip and sculpting a more pointed vision and technical expertise which culminated with the quietly dignified large format works of Uncommon Places.

      Sidenote: it isn’t Shore’s fault you were in a class of his copycats.

  10. I’m surprised to find this many people not knowing what makes good photography, even if it slapped them in the face. Go take a second look.

  11. Eric

    Wired: Your tip on thinking in bw, or thinking in color, ahead of time is right on. Your advice to experiment and break boundaries, creatively, is also well taken.

    TIRED: there is nothing wrong with Christie Lange’s fine book, but If you REALLy want to care, and take time to understand a little more of Shore’s place in American color photography, then read The New Color Photography, by Sally Eauclaire.

    What makes Shore a master is his formal Color, alive edges, three dimensional illusionism and two dimensional design.

    It’s NOT that a) he is similar or dissimilar from street photographers, nor is the point of his work that) is is related to street photographing in color, but..

    c) What inexplicable, instinctive master photographer Shore’s work teaches us about seeing color, and thinking about formal color, that is important.

    Here, you have shown low quality reproductions (the Chevron Standard blue sky image in particular ) of Shore’s print images and this is important because his original have an intense luminosity with light as (to quote eauclaire) “an expressive force”.

    The originals are not at all Hipster like, but highly realistic. You also missed the idea of symbolism in Shore’s work; the Chevron for example. Shore explained that visual tension in an image is like a trout fisherman maintaining pressure on the line.

    If you want to lump shore with other photographers, Mr. Kim, his thinking is much closer to Atget and Walker Evans.

    1. Jim, thank you very much for this in-depth feedback. I am no expert on Stephen Shore – what I wrote about was some personal impressions about his work, and how it has influenced my street photography.

      Keep the great comments coming :)

  12. I have been shooting for 35 years and must agree with thewizardtim in that I really don’t understand the appeal of the above photos. The first direct flash, unfocused shot above is not very nice as are the others except the pool one which I like. To me, a good photo should make you say ‘wow’. If this is like trying to do the opposite then I think they have succeeded.

  13. I haven’t seen his work in full size, but some of his pictures remind me
    of the book “Boring Postcards USA”, with the work of many nameless but
    talented postcard photograhers. Of course, just like Shore’s street
    scenes there is nothing boring about these postcards, instead they’re a
    fascinating insight into the past. Let’s keep on taking pictures of our neighbourhoods and our downtown, familiar scenes
    that we take for granted now, but will look very different a few
    decades from now, and make our own “boring” pictures interesting all of a sudden.

  14. Cool article. I’m definitely going to keep some of these in mind when I shoot, especially the “date your images” thing.

  15. As historic images, I like several of these. There’s a rare Chevy Vega, a Sambo’s restaurant, and a Chevron that’s selling gasoline for 60 cents a gallon without trading stamps. As art, well someone else said it well–I’m one of the people who won’t get it.

  16. Great work Mr.Kim, I have only started looking at your blog, and though all of us learn our own way, your attitude of sharing and the sheer exuberance and enthusiasm for teaching what you know is greatly appreciated. When you next come to the San Francisco Bay Area for a workshop i’ll be there.

    1. Dear Jay – thanks for the comment and love! Reading such kind comments really adds a lot to my fire and passion! Definitely hope to see you back home in SF :)

  17. It is refreshing to see a photographer being noted for taking actual “photographs” in an age that promotes technological advances to the point of losing touch with art. It is my hope there will always remain a population that appreciates simplicity in all its richness and beauty without being disguised by computerized photo programs.

  18. Sigh, I wish somebody could give me some advice on how to become inspired again. It seems as if I have lost all my energy and will to go out and shoot like I used to. Can anyone relate?

    Stephen Williams

  19. I always hate to pick on the work of any photographer, but I must be missing something here. Nothing “wrong” with these images but what is so wonderful? I see nice colour, nice timing..actually that’s not right. I see the “accidents” that can happen to anyone snapping pics. I get Eric’s analysis to a point but some of the other “comments” here border on the “artspeak” BS we are exposed to when someone wants to tell us “I know more about this art than you do, so please take my word for it”. I am a writer, so I could easily come up with the same rubbish to analyse and critique anything I like. Please, to all those who think this work is “amazing” and means anything beyond simple documents of a place and time, stop taking the mickey! Just because there are books about this work and the images hang on gallery walls means absolutely NOTHING in the real world does it? I mean really??

    1. I had never heard of him until today when I was searching images on Google and one caught my eye, it was a street corner in Philadelphia, a totally everyday scene that was created with an artistic eye. Obviously there is an element of nostalgia too but I see this kind of image re-created by Gregory Crewdson on a large scale. I know what you mean though about bullshitters like Damien Hirst (NOT Banksy).

    2. Well, it takes some effort, like reading about design, color, art. Really, he is not just snaping. So yes, REALLY!

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