|Photo: Stephen Shore|
Stephen Shore was quite resplendent in his light green suit jacket at SFMOMA this past Thursday evening (couldn't see his pants- I was in the video overflow room). He began his lecture with a short anecdote concerning the late Ansel Adams who related that he had had a burst of creativity in the forties, and had been "potboiling" ever since. Seems that really hit home with Mr. Shore, who consciously made it a point not to get mired into one particular project for the remainder of his career, or just duplicate past glories. I, for one, was unaware that he spent the '90s shooting black and white, or that he shot a digital point and shoot for a couple of years, and that most recently he was shooting with a top of the line Nikon DSLR which he likened to the camera he always wanted- a hand holdable 4X5.
I definitely applaud him for not playing it safe with the success formula that garnered him fame and fortune via Uncommon Places (it most definitely cost him at the art gallery box office). Life would have been easy riding that high note a bit longer, but it's not unusual for artistic visionaries to bounce from project to project, and even style to style, never quite repeating themselves, but never quite regaining the creative pinnacle of their original aesthetic. In other words, despite his willingness to pursue a diverse range of projects- ironically, in the end, Shore, like Adams, will be best remembered for that one, singular photographic achievement that he accomplished in a decade. He may (as he himself stated) well have continued to confront, and answer, the questions he imposed upon himself, but he will hardly be remembered for his point and shoot photos, his small, print on demand books, or his B&W work.
So, is there perhaps a third way to remain artistically potent and relevant throughout one's career? I'd point to a Mitch Epstein (amongst others), who while pursuing a variety of projects, still remains true to a central vision or core in all its variations and complexities. I'd even throw in a name like Avedon, who continued to explore the near infinite possibilities of minimalist portraiture right to the very end.
I'm certainly not suggesting there's a one size fits all blueprint for any great artist to adhere to- just trying to sort out the patterns, and peculiarities. Much as I like and admire Martin Parr's recent work, I don't think it "on par" with the sheer genius displayed in the pictures within pictures of The Last Resort- it would be an utterly exhausting, all consuming enterprise to maintain the intensity of such vision. How will Roger Ballen's continuing quest into his own fictional, self made world ultimately play out? And would anyone have been able to have a major book publisher even consider, let alone publish, a book filled with mere close ups of film grain if their name wasn't Paul Graham?