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American Surfaces.

Photographs by Stephen Shore.
Phaidon, London, 2005. 224 pp., 300 color illustrations, 8¼x9½".

After the Factory and on the cusp of his view camera peregrinations, Stephen Shore snapped hundreds of pictures while motoring across the American land in 1972 and 1973. Shot with a Rollei, these pictures dryly capture the ordinary moments and things of small-town milieu on the open road, and that poetic terminus, the motel. In this sense American Surfaces is a practice run for the more intensive series of trips he would soon after take to create the large-format pictures that would comprise Uncommon Places. The photographs are reproduced as they were first exhibited in 1972, at standard 35 mm print size, with a mesmerizing density. The concern of Americana itself—an investigation of how the national vernacular succumbs to an accelerating anonymity—is always present, right where the pictures purport to remain, on the surface. But taken just as a travelogue or a kaleidoscopic portrait of American identity in transition would ignore the discipline the pictures pursue. Almost all of them rigorously follow the Shore program, seizing similar vantages of small-scale architecture, shop windows, fridges, flashbulb-sudden portraits, scummy toilets, diner food, televisions, kitsch paintings, and the occasional odd detail. And for all their regulation, they are also disarmingly hilarious. It’s hard not to laugh at their poker faces, even as they interrogate the notion of stereotypical images and all that. The quavering between the academic exploration of loss of identity and the impulse to restrain cracking up is the mode for the new era he helped usher in. - ALAN RAPP Read Publisher's Description.

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