Stephen Shore, North Black Avenue, Bozeman, 1981

Stephen Shore (1947 – ), North Black Avenue, Bozeman, 1981, dye transfer print. Middlebury College Museum of Art. Gift of Ted Perry, 1987.033.

In 1982, Tennessee Williams observed about Stephen Shore’s photographs, “His work is Nabokovian for me: Exposing so much, and yet leaving so much room for your imagination to roam and do what it will.”1 A pioneer in the use of color for fine art photography, for almost five decades Shore has balanced his work on the divide between explication and implication.

This is especially apparent in North Black Avenue, Bozeman, where Shore balances the mundane details of a suburban neighborhood – cracked sidewalk, tilted driveway, tended lawn – with elements of the natural world that, upon closer inspection, seem increasingly artificial. A spherical shrub with glowing orange leaves, a tall pine that hides the house that lurks behind it, other trees that read as white ghosts: all of these bits of nature have surrendered to an environment where they exist only by permission of a relentless human power.

Since its appearance in the 1970s, Shore’s work has been typified by deadpan examinations of banal, “boring” things. Absorbing ideas from Pop Art (Shore was a frequent visitor at Andy Warhol’s Factory) and conceptual art of the sixties and seventies, Shore explored vernacular landscapes, objects, and people in cool, affectless images. He also made what seem to be tongue-in-cheek references to “nature photography” in a number of photographs.

The disconnect between the built environment and the subjects we think of as suitable for the nature photographer is evident in many of Shore’s photographs. Shore’s subjects often play on tropes of nature photography, as when a beautiful snow covered mountain range of the sort Ansel Adams would have photographed appears in a desolate field on a billboard, or the word “sunset” on a sign takes the place of the real thing. In North Black Avenue, Bozeman, trees that would be given pride of place in a photograph by Ansel Adams or Eliot Porter are subsumed by the streets and sidewalks that border them, perhaps as a metaphor for the place of nature in general in our lives.

Sam Kudman, Middlebury ’17, composed music inspired by Shore’s photograph: